Two Haida Gwaii women ran in the Tears to Hope Virtual Relay on June 13.
The second annual run was organized by the Tears to Hope Society, with the goal of raising awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
Last year teams from communities along Highway 16, including Prince Rupert, Terrace and Smithers, ran a more traditional relay, passing along a deerskin scroll inscribed with a “Message of Hope.” However, the society organized a virtual run this year due to COVID-19.
Skidegate resident Zoey Collinson, who will be going into Grade 11 at Gidgalang Kuuyas Naay Secondary School next year, set off from the hospital in Daajing Giids around 7 p.m. on Saturday and ran 10 kilometres to Balance Rock in Skidegate.
Collinson said she found out about the virtual relay from her mother Natasha, who rode a bicycle behind her as she ran.
“As an Indigenous person I thought it was an important cause to spread awareness,” Collinson told the Observer. “I think it’s important because lots of Indigenous girls go missing every year.”
While Collinson said she regularly goes for 4-kilometre runs, her route on Saturday was the longest she had ever attempted.
“My feet started hurting really bad, but I pushed through,” she said. “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
She arrived at Balance Rock around 8 p.m. and went for a swim near the Haida Heritage Centre.
“That was really nice, refreshing.”
She said she was also grateful for her dad and sister, who drove along the route, stopping to give her water.
“It was nice having them support me and my mom biked alongside me most of the entire way,” she said.
Other family members also cheered for her when she past their home and held up signs.
“They were singing Haida songs too, which was cool,” she said.
Sandspit resident Brenna Kowalchuk also ran 10 kilometres from the harbour to the airport to Hardingville.
Kowalchuk had seen on social media that Collinson was planning to run the virtual relay, and “knew immediately that [she] also needed to participate” to raise awareness for MMIWG, including her niece, Chantel Moore.
Moore died on June 4 in Edmundston, New Brunswick after being shot by police during a well-being check.
“Recently I’ve been learning more about my paternal family and slowly meeting them,” Kowalchuk told the Observer, adding that she met her father 17 years ago for the first time.
“My paternal family is Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. I have an older half-sister, who I have not yet met and two weeks ago, her daughter was killed by an RCMP officer in New Brunswick. Chantel Moore.”
Through Moore’s death, Kowalchuk said she is learning more about MMIWG.
“Although we represent a lower percentage overall in the population, we are going missing or being murdered at a much higher rate than non-Indigenous women,” she said. “I have a one-year-old daughter myself and this scares me so much.”
She added that she was not prepared to run 10 kilometres — it had been at least two years since she had run that far.
“But knowing that families are never prepared to lose their female family members, I felt like it was the least I could do to bring some awareness to MMIGW,” she said.
Her five-year-old son rode his bike behind her and along the way, a friend sent her a Haida song, and others cheered her on and asked if they could join.
Next year Kowalchuk said she hopes to help organize a bigger Tears to Hope Relay Run on Sandspit.
According to the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which was delivered to the federal government in 2019, the lives of thousands of Indigenous women and girls have been lost in Canada to a race-based genocide empowered by colonial structures.
— With files from Natalia Balcerzak
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