Two Indigenous women are biking almost 20,000 km across North America to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women.
“I knew in my heart I had to bike,” said Joan Jack.
Jack, along with her companion Charmaine Willier-Larsen started the journey in Winnipeg more than 40 days ago.
“This ride is saying I have been victimized, but I am not a victim,” Jack said in an Al Jazeera video posted on their Facebook page.
Estimates on the number of Indigenous women missing or murdered vary over the past few decades, but the number could be upwards of 4,000.
|On each ribbon is a missing or murdered Indigenous woman. Jack and Willier-Larsen estimate they have over 60 ribbons, given to them by people missing a loved one. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)|
“If 4,000 white women had gone missing, we would have called in the army,” said Jack. She works as a barrister and solicitor in Winnipeg.
“I don’t know why we don’t live in a world where everyone matters.”
The two have rode through Ottawa, New York, Atlanta, San Diego, and Vancouver, in a large circle, similar to a medicine wheel.
“We do everything in circles. Tepees in a circle, the sun is in a circle. Our whole life is in a circle,” said Willier-Larsen in the Al Jazeera video.
The two will continue riding back to Winnipeg to finish the circle.
“It’s very important that we close the circle, that there are no gaps. So to empower and keep the energy in the circle,” continued Willier-Larsen.
|Estimates vary, but there could be more than 4,000 murdered or missing Indigenous women in Canada over the past few decades. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)|
After more than three years, an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous woman issued it’s final report to the Canadian government in June, which included many recommendations and 231 calls to action for governments, police, and the Canadian public. The persistent pattern of abuses against Indigenous women, girls, two-spirited people and LGBTQ individuals, can only be described as genocide the report concluded.
The inquiry found that Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or go missing than any other demographic group in Canada. They are also 16 times more likely to be slain or to disappear than white women.
“We want to empower young girls and give them the tools to not become a missing and murdered girl,” said Willier-Larsen.
Jack added that most non-indigenous woman are murdered by people they know, compared to Indigenous woman who are slain by people they don’t.
Behind their bikes a trail of red ribbons flap. On each is a name, given to them by someone missing a loved one. As they ride, ribbons break free, fluttering in the breeze.
“Their spirit becomes free,” Willier-Larsen said.
|Gwen Mitchells (left) from Edmonton, Alberta met her cousin Willier-Larsen at the Big Eddy pub yesterday. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)|
Gwen Mitchell lives in Edmonton, Alberta and is Willier-Larsen cousin. She met the bikers yesterday at Big Eddy Pub.
Willier-Larsen has another frayed ribbon tied in her hair. This ribbon is to commemorate Mitchell’s grandma, who went missing many years ago. She was later found dead – a victim of colonization and residential schools said Willier-Larsen.
Mitchel points to the ribbon and notes the fraying strings.
“Grandma is getting shorter.”
The two cousins laugh.
Jack and Willier-Larsen aim to finish their ride by mid-July.