Highway of Tears, By Jessica McDiarmid

A searing account of the missing, and murdered, Indigenous women of Highway 16, and an indictment of the society that failed them.

For decades, Indigenous women have gone missing or been found murdered, along an isolated stretch of highway in northwestern British Columbia. The highway is known as the ‘Highway of Tears’ and it has come to symbolize a national crisis.

Journalist, Jessica McDiarmid, investigates the devastating effect these tragedies have had on the families of the victims and their communities, and how systemic racism and indifference have created a climate where Indigenous women are over-policed, yet under-protected. Through interviews with those closest to the victims–mothers and fathers, siblings and friends–McDiarmid offers an intimate, first-hand account of their loss and relentless fight for justice. Examining the historically fraught social and cultural tensions between settlers and Indigenous peoples in the region, McDiarmid links these cases to others across Canada–now estimated to number up to 4,000–contextualizing them within a broader examination of the undervaluing of Indigenous lives in this country.

Highway of Tears is a powerful story about our ongoing failure to provide justice for missing and murdered, Indigenous women, and a testament to their families and communities’ unwavering determination to find it.

Heather comments
This story of missing and endangered indigenous women from the Highway of Tears in British Columbia has fascinated me for some time.  So, upon learning about the 2019 publication of a book by the same title, I knew I would have to read it.  The image on the book cover depicting a large indigenous themed eye with a corresponding tear seemed appropriate and I was pleased to learn that it had been designed by a native female artist from the Prince George area. 

This is the Canadian journalist, Jessica McDiarmid’s first book.  Growing up near the Highway, Jessica indicated that she had wanted to write about this story for over 15 years but initially did not have enough information.  Over time, Jessica gradually accumulated research and personal interviews with the families to prepare a thorough analysis of the topic.

The information is presented chronologically but is somewhat confusing as it jumps forwards and backward through history, similar to the actual investigations and in a manner that the information was discovered.  This makes the reading confusing, but is also effective as one understands how difficult the investigations were to complete.  Included is a map of Highway #16 and the significant cities and towns which is extremely helpful. Several family photographs also personalized the story. A chronological list of the victims and their date of death would also have been helpful.  There were many perspectives presented in the book (i.e. family, government, RCMP, investigators, community, activists) which makes this an informative read.  It is no wonder that Highway to Tears, was included in the 2020 longlist for the RBC Taylor Prize for non-fiction.

Although the incidents and racism described in the book are hard to read, they are a part of Canadian history and it behooves us to be knowledgeable.  Hopefully, such awareness will encourage change and prevent abuse from continuing to happen.

Heather S.

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