Since 1969 dozens of women, almost all Indigenous, have disappeared or been found murdered along Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George, British Columbia. All but one remain unsolved.
What do we mean when we talk about love?
The experience of loving or being loved is never identical from one person to the next. It cannot be, as the concept of love is both deeply subjective and intangible. We only know it because we feel it, not because we see it or touch it. Our proof of its existence lies within the actions and words that we deem loving. However, what manifests as loving behaviour for some may be an annoyance for others.
We talk about how it makes us feel, how it should feel, how we express it or are unable to. Its varied expressions permeate our personal lives, if we’re lucky. We conceive of love as having many different forms: platonic, sexual, romantic, the love for a child or the love for a pet. While it may be hard to agree on exactly what love is, or how it feels, it’s easier to agree that love has many benefits—feeling love can help us through dark days, provide us with some small (or large) daily joy, give us inspiration for poetry, art, film. Love can help people heal. On the one hand, this concept seems mundane, even clichéd—isn’t it a given that love makes you feel good, and feeling good helps you heal? On the other hand, how can it be that simply feeling a certain way about another human being can change you, and them? This is a remarkable power. If love means so many different things on an individual level, how can it begin to be assessed on a national level, and how is its power wielded? How does a nation love?
One way to approach that last question is through journalist Connie Walker’s podcast Who Killed Alberta Williams?, in which Walker sets out not only to breathe fresh life into the decades-old murder investigation, but to achieve a particular mission. That stated mission is to show how loved Alberta Williams was, to show her humanity. Walker’s mission is admirable and will hopefully incite action—such as a review of not only Williams’ case but also of the hundreds more unsolved cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada.
Why, though, should Walker have to prove that Alberta mattered to those who knew her? When white women go missing, or are murdered, there is no call to prove their humanity (unless they are sex workers, drug users, or in some other way marginalized). Alberta’s Indigenous identity, like the hundreds of other women across Canada who are gone, without answers, sets her apart in our nation’s consideration. It makes her lesser. Less than others, less deserving of help, police resources, justice. There is no other way to explain the epidemic of unsolved and mishandled cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women across this country. The statistics (on domestic violence, murder, abuse, poverty, etc.) that outline the myriad disadvantages facing Indigenous women are easy to find and readily available—they are also grim enough that constantly listing them, even for educational purposes, becomes a burden unto itself.
Taking on this burden by delving into the minute details of Alberta’s murder, Walker’s investigation is commendable for bringing attention to a ‘forgotten’ case, and to Canada’s larger epidemic. However, that burden—of knowing the stats, of knowing the details, of feeling the loss—rests on the families and friends of all of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women, every day. We need to know this, as a nation.
How does a nation love? Perhaps this can best be defined by recognizing who is not loved. Who the nation does not see as human, as loved and loving beings. Love is what keeps Alberta’s family and friends searching for answers, for justice—they miss her terribly and they seek closure. How to find it?
Adriana Chartrand is a 26-year-old Métis woman from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She holds a BA in Film Studies with a minor in Women’s Studies from the University of Manitoba, and an MA in Film Studies from the University of Toronto. She currently works in film in Toronto and loves watching reality TV.