Highway of Tears Symposium Sparked by Teen Murder

By Lloyd Dolha

The Leidli T’enneh First Nation of Prince George will hold a community symposium on the infamous ‘Highway of Tears,’ in reaction to the recent murder of 14-year-old aboriginal teen Aielah Saric-Auger, whose remains were found at the side of Highway 16 on February 11, 2006, 15 kilometres outside of city.

The death of the aboriginal teen has sent shockwaves throughout the aboriginal community and “has brought to the forefront the critical issues of race, poverty, women’s rights, the isolation of our youth and our justice system,” said the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, in an urgent call for the community symposium, sent on February 22.

Rena Zatoriski, councilor for the Leidli T’enneh, said they have received a number of commitments from various organizations in answer to their call, and plan to hold the two-day symposium on March 30 -31, at the CN Centre in Prince George. Organizers expect up to 500 aboriginal leaders, family members and advocate workers to discuss those critical issues.

More than RCMP officers have been assigned to the murder of the aboriginal teen, and the murders of eight other young women who have gone missing, and later found murdered on the 722-kilometre stretch of Highway 16, which runs from Prince Rupert to Prince George. Of those nine, only one was non-aboriginal, the majority teens.

“These tragic deaths have shocked and saddened people across the province,” said B.C. Solicitor General John Les. “A targeted police team will ensure that we have the resources and tools to find out what has happened to these women so that justice is done and communities can start to heal.”

Twenty-two senior crime investigators are working on the investigation into Saric-Auger’s death, and 15 more cops have worked on the investigations into the deaths of the eight other women, as early as 1990.

Missing or found dead along the highway since 1990 are:
· Tamara Chipman, 22;
· Lana Derrick, 19;
· Ramona Wilson, 15;
· Delhine Nikal, 15;
· Roxanna Thiara, 15;
· Aleisha Germaine, 15;
· Deena Lyn Braem, 17;
· Nicole Hoar, 25; only Hoar is non-aboriginal.

The various investigations involve women from Prince Rupert, Terrace, Smithers, Burns Lake and Prince George. The investigations include a comprehensive review of all files for possible linkages between the evidence already obtained in each case. More officers may be assigned once the review is complete.

Serial killer suspected
Professional crime profilers have speculated that many of the murders that have occurred along the Highway of Tears appear to be the work of a serial killer, but the RCMP say there isn’t enough evidence to support that theory.

The BC First Nations Leadership Council has called for a more coordinated approach to the investigations, asking RCMP to combine the expertise of all past and present RCMP officers involved in the cases.

“No one wants to repeat the mistakes of the investigation of the missing and murdered women of the downtown eastside of Vancouver,” said Chief Stewart Phillip, one of the three provincial First Nations that comprise the Leadership Council. “The lessons learned from that tragedy – namely, the benefits of a coordinated approach and dedicated response of law enforcement on behalf of all British Columbia’s, … could yield positive results for the Highway of Tears investigations.”

March walk planned
A Highway of Tears Awareness Walk will take place from March 11-29, which will leave Prince Rupert and end in Prince George, in time to coincide with the symposium.

We’suweten elder and grandmother Florence Naziel, 56, will walk from Prince Rupert to Terrace escorted by a pilot car in the beginning, to arrive at Terrace on March 11. She will challenge herself to walk 20-30 kilometres per day. One of Florence’s cousins, Tommy Chipman, lost his daughter Tamara on the Highway of Tears. Other volunteers will take over from Terrance. Matilda (Matty) Wilson, mother of Ramona Wilson, will walk from Smithers to Prince George, and will be accompanied by the K’san Dancers.
According to Naziel, there are actually 34 aboriginal women who have gone missing and remain unreported because of the legal reporting process.

Her 34 year-old daughter Pricilla and Arlene Roberts will make a video of the awareness walk. The pair has conducted research into the other alleged 25 missing women to be presented at the symposium.

Previous highway victims
Dephine Nikal, 15, from Smithers was last seen June 14, 1990 while hitchhiking east of Telkwa.

Three teenage boys, behind an elementary school in Prince George, found Alishia Germaine, 15, dead on December 9, 1994. Germaine, part native, was said to have worked as a prostitute, but friends claimed she had stopped two weeks before her stabbing death.

Roxanne Thiara, 15,went missing in Prince George on the July long weekend in 1994. She had worked as a prostitute and told a friend she was going out with a customer. She walked around the corner of a building and was never heard from again. Her body was found August 17, 1994, in a bush along Highway 16, six kilometres east of Burns Lake.

Ramona Wilson, 15, of Smithers disappeared June 11, 1994, while hitchhiking to Smithers. Her body was found a year later near the Smithers airport.

Lana Derrick, 19, was last seen getting into a vehicle at a service station near Terrace, on October 7, 1995.

Deena Lyn Braem, 17, was last seen at approximately 4:00 a.m. on September 25, 1999. On December 10, 1999, human remains were located near Pinnacles Park, Quesnel BC. The subsequent autopsy proved the remains were Braem’s; and that she had been murdered.

Tamara Chipman, 22, of Terrace was last seen at 4:30 p.m. on September 21, 2005, hitchhiking near an industrial park on Highway 16 in Prince Rupert.

Nicole Hoar, 25, a tree planter, was last seen hitchhiking to Smithers on June 21, 2002, near the outskirts of Prince George on Highway 16.

Aielah Saric-Auger, 14, a student at DP Todd Secondary School in Prince George, was last seen by her family on February 2, 2006.