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BC First Nations Security Project: Highway of Tears Call To Action

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Photo caption: Kitselas Band Council: Left, Councillor CJ Bennett Nabess, Clarisa Spencer, Chad Gerow, Chief Judy Gerow,

Councillor Lloyd McDames Sr. and Lynn Parker

By Councillor Chad Gerow, Kitselas First Nation 

This June marked a very important time for our communities in Tsimshian territory as they chose their leaders for a two-year term. I am very proud to be sharing this information with you in my capacity as a newly elected Band Council Member for the Kitselas First Nation.

I am reaching out to the Global Indigenous Council and allied organizations, as leaders who understand the importance of safety and security. Through this letter, the Kitselas and other First Nations’ leaders respectfully invite you, your members and like-hearted supporters, to participate in a project that will bring communications to the North. We are currently launching an initiative to bring cost-effective, fail-safe mobile connectivity to our Northern BC communities to improve the safety and security of our people, particularly the life-givers in our communities – our women and girls who, tragically, are all potential MMIW victims.

The Kitselas First Nation is known to Canada as a “land code First Nation Government, responsible to its members for directing economic, social, cultural, educational, safety and land management activities”. As “People of the Canyon” we’ve defined ourselves over the course of 5,000 years in the eyes of the Creator as protectors of our lands and People. We are distinct culturally, yet share foundational family-centered values, with our kin in Tsimshian country on the Northwest Coast, through to Northeast BC. 

We are united through years of sharing necessities for survival and through passing on cultural traditions. Unfortunately, we are also unified through experiencing our women and girls, our teachers and nurses, going missing or having been murdered along Route 16, known locally as “The Highway of Tears.” The 720 km route from Prince George to Prince Rupert is heavily travelled in all seasons, at all hours, by locals, tourist, extractive industry proponents, and also our First Nations people, who are often hitch-hiking due to economic hardships. That there is virtually no cell coverage and only occasional Wi-Fi access is not news. It is part of a complex problem of connecting rural and northern residents to high-speed internet (2018 Report of the Federal Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology), at a cost estimated at $7-billion.

However, we are taking action - now. The level of fear for personal safety continues to heighten in the North as postings on Facebook show new cases each week of women reported as missing along Highway 16. In addition, the recent killing of tourists near Dease Lake/Tahltan First Nation have driven home that we are all vulnerable.  We have a window of opportunity to prepare and take action - together - and improve community security regionally. 

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Highway of Tears (Hwy 16 British Columbia)

I am reaching out to invite our relatives, friends and allies to join us and strengthen the groundwork and commitment to implement YodelME’s mobile communication system and improve community security on the ground, our BC First Nations Security Project will also help respond to outstanding calls to action such as those identified in the Highway of Tears Symposium - 24 Recommendations Report (2006):

    - 1-800 crisis line number to report such things as young women picked up while hitchhiking

    - Increasing cell phone coverage to blanket Hwy 16 thus minimizing or eliminating no signal areas

    - A 1-800 public tip line for potential leads, and to share info about suspicious people they encounter

    - Creation of awareness and prevention program with all First Nation communities on/ near Hway 16

    - Engagement of Youth as part of the solution in All First Nation communities on/near Hway 16

    - Creation of local protocols on emergency action between the RCMP and the communities 

    - Creation and training of local teams as an essential component of the communications alert system 

    - Simultaneous coordinated communication of action/responses among all responders on Hwy 16

    - Establishment of joint emergency communications (actions) between the RCMP & community teams 

    - Train First Nation crisis responders on the comms system and develop a 24/7 response roster.

These articles would be directly addressed BC First Nations Security Project.

In addition, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (2019) is a “Call to Justice” and identifies, as a priority, the standardization of protocols for policies regarding MMIW cases, specifically to:

    (i) establish a communication protocol with Indigenous communities to inform them of policies, practices, and programs that make the communities safe; 

    (ii) Improve communication between police and families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people from the first report, with regular and ongoing communication throughout the investigation; and to 

    (iii) improve coordination across government departments and between jurisdictions and Indigenous communities and police services. 

We are moving forward with this critical undertaking and we have been encouraged by the positive response from communities around this mutually beneficial opportunity for First Nations, local communities, local entrepreneurs, proponents and governments to work hand in hand on a viable safety solution that benefits our entire country.

In closing, I would like to give recognition to the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, Carrier Sekani Family Services and acknowledge all the victims’ families for the amazing work they have done and continue to do on the Highway of Tears (Hwy 16 British Columbia).

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