The cries to help stop the killings on the so-called highway of tears in northern British Columbia must be heard, politicians, police and aboriginals said yesterday.
Nine women -- eight of them aboriginal -- have been slain or have gone missing since 1990 from communities that dot the largely remote Highway 16 corridor that stretches almost 750 kilometres between Prince George and Prince Rupert.
Some suggested at a two-day symposium on the highway deaths that the number of missing or slain may be closer to 35.
Police have made no arrests in the cases. They say they are considering the possibility that a serial killer is on the loose but need more evidence.
"Justice is what I want," said Audrey Auger, whose daughter Aielah was the most recent known victim.
At 14, Aielah Saric-Auger was also the youngest of the known victims. Her body was found in February near the highway outside of Prince George.
"What should come out of this is people's cries be heard," Ms. Auger said.
The other eight who have gone missing or have been found dead along the highway since 1990 are Tamara Chipman, 22; Lana Derrick, 19; Ramona Wilson, 15; Delphine Nikal, 15; Roxanna Thiara, 15; Aleisha Germaine, 15; and Nicole Hoar, 25.
Only Ms. Hoar, who has been missing for four years, is non-native.
Monica Ignas was 15 when she disappeared from the highway in December, 1974; Alberta Williams was 27 when she vanished in August, 1989.
Cecilia Anne Nikal, cousin of Delphine Nikal, has been missing since 1989.
At the conference yesterday, family members desperate to know what happened to their loved ones told their stories of grief. Some had walked from Prince Rupert to Prince George to attend the conference.
"The devil walks among us in so many ways," said Matilda Wilson, as she opened the conference. She had walked from Smithers to Prince George. Her daughter, Ramona, disappeared in June, 1994, while hitchhiking to meet friends. Her body was found in April, 1995, near the Smithers airport.
Top B.C. Mounties, including Superintendent Leon Van De Walle, the officer in charge of major crimes for B.C., attended the symposium.
The RCMP participated yesterday in informal workshops with aboriginal groups, including tribal leaders and people who had lost relatives on the highway.
Sergeant John Ward said the Mounties listened intently to the concerns raised.
Some family members said their early reports about missing children did not appear to be taken seriously by the RCMP; others said the police were extremely diligent and helpful.
"We understand where they are coming from," Sgt. Ward said. "We're going to keep trying at becoming better at communicating."
New Democratic Party member of Parliament Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley) said the Mounties have a lot of work to do when it comes to rebuilding trust with aboriginals who live along Highway 16.
He said there is a concern the crimes were not taken seriously because they involved aboriginals, especially aboriginal women.
"If this were taking place in the Ottawa Valley or taking place in Toronto, and these were not native women, would the reaction be the same? The reaction would be obviously different."
Mr. Cullen, whose riding includes many of the highway communities, said he was the only MP to attend the conference.
New Democratic MLA Jagrup Brar (Surrey-Panorama Ridge) said he will suggest the aboriginal community launch a pilot project to make a formal list of all the people who have disappeared or been slain along the highway.
He also suggested posting a reward for information on the disappearances and deaths.
The B.C. government has contributed $50,000 to finance aboriginal-led projects that result from the conference.
"This is without question the most powerful gathering that I have ever been at," said Children and Family Development Minister Stan Hagen (Comox Valley). "The testimony of the families: heart-rending."