Against the overclouded sky, a totem stands powerfully in Anchor Park, Tofino, B.C. Carver Joe David crafted the totem to honour Tla-o-qui-aht Haw̓ił (pronounced Ha’wiih, hereditary chiefs). The bottom figure is a four-year-old girl — representing the future generations to come. It’s a strong start to an event where families are gathering on the dock. Chantel Moore’s mother, Martha Martin is hosting a healing walk.
Taayi of Ahousaht, under his father Mukʷina (pronounced Maquinna), Richard George shares his voice and drum. Ha-yuuq-chiis-inup, Dave Frank guides the group in praying to the four directions, and calling in ancestors. “They’re going to be with you on your walk. They’re here right now. Your daughter’s an ancestor. She’s standing with you,” he tells Martha. “Your son is an ancestor. He’s standing with you right there right now,” he says.
Martha is walking 26 kilometres for her daughter Chantel along the Pacific Rim Highway in B.C. from Tofino to Ucluelet junction. On May 19, a New Brunswick coroner’s inquest jury ruled Chantel Moore’s death a homicide. Edmundston police officer Jeremy Son fatally shot Moore during a wellness check in June 2020.
Martha is also walking for her son Mike Martin, who died six months after Chantel — of apparent suicide while in police custody in B.C. “We lose people by shootings and then nobody ever talks about it,” says Martha. “And not everybody was lucky enough to get an inquiry for their children.”
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Martha receives the prayer for her safety with her hands raised up — a gesture of gratitude. Through songs, Martha quietly clutches a roll of paper in her hand. It’s a list of people who were shot by police or who died in custody. “There’s 1,831 names on this list and it continues to grow, with another name added just this week,” she says.
Nine of those families are starting to gather, and organize. They want justice, and change: to remove police from wellness checks, for body cams to always be on, and truly independent investigative offices.
“On June 4, 2020, my daughter was taken from us. She has brought a nation together from the East Coast to West Coast. They have awakened a nation,” says Martha. “It’s time we make noise. I’m not going to walk away from this until real positive change is made.”
Sharing this level of pain
Martha reached out to the Support Network for Indigenous Women and Women of Colour with a vision for a healing event. The support network assisted in fundraising from Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. “I’m honoured to witness how this is moving, how that frustration is being channeled into healing, because these families deserve it,” says events coordinator Joni Oldhoff. “They deserve not just justice, but also to be able to have healing and remember their loved ones.”
This is the first time Clayton Crawford’s mother Joyleen has attended or participated in any vigil. In 2018, her son was sleeping at a rest stop along the highway in Whitecourt, Alberta, when two RCMP officers shot him multiple times. The officers were eventually charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault and “discharging a firearm with intent.” It is the first time in the decade-plus history of the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) that officers were criminally charged after a fatal shooting. “I believe the only reason officers were charged is because one of the police cars had a dash cam that caught the evidence,” says Joyleen. The two officers have been suspended with pay, for the past two years.
“There is something healing about being with people who know how this feels,” says Joyleen, who is Métis. She says she joined Martha in this walk because it’s important that people know how many lives have been lost. Joyleen would like to see a national day to Honour Their Names, to draw attention to the numbers of lives lost to police violence. “When these things happen, people think about it for a week, and then forget until next year. If we all recognized one day, in all the cities across Canada, then people would see how many, and how often.”
Jared Lowndes’ mother, Laura Holland, explains there are no support groups for the mothers and fathers of children murdered by law enforcement. Her son Jared was killed by the RCMP on July 8, 2021. “There is no place for us to share our disbelief, outrage, and unthinkable sorrow. “We are left to plead with the public for funding as we scramble to do fundraisers and left to feel like beggars — to fight the state that is so well-organized and funded,” says Laura. Her family demands for justice for Jared include the disarmament and defunding of police, and the end of use and abuse of police dogs.
“There’s strength in numbers,” says Martha. Laura agrees, and explains it’s important to organize. “What chance do we have on our own? We must gather — to share this level of pain. To gather our meagre resources and unstoppable spirits.”
Julian Jones’ mother, Carol Manson is from Tla-o-qui-aht Nation. On February 27, 2021, she was sleeping on the couch when RCMP knocked on the door. By the time she stood up, her son was killed. “They shot him, I don’t know how many times, but quite a few times. Then they tased him, after they killed him.” The Independent Investigations Office (IIO) has not released the report publicly yet.
For Carol, the gathering is about being able to speak about her son with people who understand. She has trouble sleeping, and is often awake for days at a time. She describes feeling stuck and not being able to move forward. “Keeping it to myself I guess, and I haven’t really been talking about it,” she shares. She speaks quietly, with soft eyes. “This really helps me out a lot, to [speak out] especially for my kids.”
It’s painful, yet her face glows when she describes her boy. “He was always gentle, he never got angry. And, he loved his culture,” she shares. She stops walking to find a photo of him as a young boy, wearing a towel for a robe, dancing for his siblings in the living room. “He loved singing, and he loved dancing,” Carol beams — she wants people to know this about her son.
Further along the Pacific Rim highway, the families meet with traditional healers. The smell of sage wafts through the quiet conversations while Ha-yuuq-chiis-inup, Dave Frank and Quaamina Sam hold Martha’s feet gently. Smudging and praying, their hands moving lightly over an unhealed fractured foot that she’s been walking on. “I don’t see it as an obstacle right now because my kids, you know, I love them dearly and this is a small piece that I can do to honour them.” Martha has been grieving in New Brunswick where her daughter was killed — far from her home community. Healers Ruth Sam and apprentice Lisa Thomas are working with a determined grace, brushing away what needs to be left behind.
The week’s healing events culminated at the legislature buildings in Victoria, B.C., on June 4.
Also joining Martha were Indigenous and Black families who loved Rodney Levi, (shot and killed by New Brunswick RCMP), Regis Korchinski-Paquet (died during a wellness check by Toronto police), Jamal Francique (shot and killed by Mississauga police) Jermaine Carby (shot and killed by Peel Regional Police), Anthony Aust (died during a no-knock Ottawa police entry involving a flash grenade), and Aaron Lee Prince (shot by RCMP en route to hospital).
It’s been two years of grieving for Martha. That time has brought a lot of darkness, she says, before bringing her to full-time organizing and awareness raising. “I’ve fully committed myself to fight for the change for our people,” says Martha. “To make sure that these recommendations aren’t just put in a file. Because how many times have we heard recommendations and there’s been no action?”
After the gatherings and songs have closed, the families will return to their communities and day-to-day lives. For Martha, that means caring for Chantel Moore’s young daughter, Grace.
“Our children deserve to feel safe when they leave our house. I will go to the end of the world to make Gracie’s life safer and our future generations,” she says.
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