In British Columbia, a heavily-forested, remote highway that cuts across Canada to the Pacific Ocean has seen as many as 50 women disappear over the past 50 years, many of whom were never found or heard from again. Almost all of the women were aboriginal, walking or hitchhiking along the road when they disappeared, and together represent just a fraction of the cases of missing indigenous women throughout the country. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police estimates the number of cases to be about 1,200, while the Native Women’s Association of Canada suggests there could be as many as 4,000, according to The New York Times, assigned a reporter and photographer to travel Highway 16 for a story about Canada’s indigenous communities. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau launched a $31 million national inquiry into the disappearances as part of his plan for a “total renewal” of the tense relationship between the government and indigenous citizens among alleged mistreatment, racism, and sexism by police and little help from government services after disappearances.
Along Highway 16, indigenous communities struggling with economic hardship and alienation are visible, according to the Times story. Roadside signs warn girls not to walk or hitchhike along the highway.
“The trees are really dense here, so if you’re looking for someone, it’s pretty hard to find them,” Brenda Wilson of the Carrier Sekani Family Services and the sister of one of the victims told the paper.
“The stories made us cautious,” Rochelle Joseph, an unemployed 21-year-old walking along the road, said, noting her fear of a serial killer. “He’s probably still out there.”
Canadian Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett, who is leading an inquiry into the thousands of missing indigenous women at the direction of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, appeared at the Women in the World New York Summit to discuss the ongoing issue of its treatment of indigenous women throughout the decades. Bennett described the problem as “Canada’s secretive shame,” and explained that in schools, “none” of the country’s 96 percent non-indigenous students learned about this history, or its effects.
Read the full story at The New York Times.