First B.C. hearing for problem-plagued Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Inquiry
by Lori Culbert, Vancouver Sun, September 26, 2017
Vicki Hill paused frequently to compose herself this morning as she told the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women that she has no memory of her mother, who was murdered along the Highway of Tears when she was just a baby.
“I was six months old when she died,” Hill told the commissioners in a quiet voice.
Mary Jane Hill, a mother of four children, was found dead along Highway 16 east of Prince Rupert on March 26, 1978 at the age of 31.
“I never knew her, but in my eyes she gave me life,” an emotional Hill said when asked how her life has been without her mother.
“She won’t be there for any special occasion. Period. And that’s not fair. She didn’t deserve this, whatsoever. She had children to look after. She had siblings. She wasn’t there to see her grandchildren be born. And this is all tough, and now I’m the one who has to deal with it. She’s not going to be there when I need her the most.”
She said it remains difficult to get answers in her mother’s unsolved case, more than 40 years later. There was semen found on her body, and Hill wonders about any DNA testing done in the case. “Are we ever going to find the answers? Are we going to get what we want?” she asked.
The room was packed with other victims’ relatives to hear Hill’s difficult testimony.
“I’m not just speaking for my mom, I speak for the rest of the families. I feel their pain, I feel their hurt. I can see it,” she said, weeping. “I have my rights, too, and things have got to change, no matter what.”
In response to a question about whether she knew of any other victims found near the spot where her mother was discovered, Hill said: “Not too far from where my mother was found was Alberta Williams.”
Williams, 24, was last seen in August 1989 in Prince Rupert and her body was found less than a month later along the highway.
Hill said she was devastated when police told her that her mother’s case wouldn’t be included in the RCMP E-Pana task force, which investigated the highway of tears case, because she didn’t fit the criteria. Williams, however, is among the official victims that are part of the E-Pana case.
Many of the victims disappeared while hitchhiking. Even today, Hill said, there is still no cell service between Rupert and Terrace, or billboards warning against hitchhiking. And by bus, to get from Smithers to Prince Rupert, for example, she has to catch a bus at 3 a.m., which she says isn’t safe for women and girls.
“Something has to be done. We are talking about lives. We are talking about human beings,” she said.
She hopes the inquiry brings improved transportation and safety along the highway, justice for the families, and to have officials believe their stories.
The inquiry is now paused until 1:30 this afternoon, when it will resume in Smithers with testimony from another family.
The national inquiry will hear from British Columbia victims and relatives for the first time today, at hearings now underway in Smithers.
Smithers is located between Prince Rupert and Prince George along Highway 16, dubbed the Highway of Tears because dozens of girls and women have disappeared over the last four decades along this road and other nearby northern routes.
Relatives of some of those victims marched along Highway 16 earlier this week, to mark the much-anticipated start of community hearings in B.C. Forty people are registered to speak over the next three days in Smithers.
“The walk we did was just the tip of what the women went through,” Hill said of the long trek. “We had pain and blisters, but it doesn’t compare to what (the victims) went through.”
This is only the second set of hearings for the delayed inquiry, after it heard from witnesses in Whitehorse in May. Relatives advocated for years for this type of national commission, but it has faced many controversies including high-profile resignations and criticism of poor communication to the families.
One the victims from Smithers was Ramona Wilson, a popular girl who had dreams of attending university in Victoria. She went missing on June 11, 1994 in Smithers on her way to a friend’s place, and it took nearly a year to find her remains close to the town’s airport.
Ramona’s mother and sister have lobbied for years for answers in her unsolved case.