A Kootenays man is walking the entire B.C. length of Highway 16 to raise awareness and support for missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Stopping by Vanderhoof on Sept. 21, Brett Merchant from Cranbrook, accompanied by his Siberian husky/timber wolf Kura, started his trek from the B.C./Alberta border on Sept. 1 and aims to finish his journey in Old Masset of Haida Gwaii by Dec. 31.
“We can all go try to help and do something, and for my heart, it’s the young aboriginal women on the highway,” Merchant said.
As a child, when he accompanied his parents to work at the family shoe store on Saturdays, his father would say in the morning, “Brett, wake the boys up,” he recalled.
“Behind the store’s back door, there would be some First Nation men and women laying on the gravel,” he said. “I never understand, wanting to ask, ‘Why are you bleeding, why do you smell that way?’
“They couldn’t wait to see Bobby, which is my dad, because he’s going to help them.”
His father would then bring them to a cafe across the street and pay for their breakfast or lunch.
“That’s what I grew up with,” he said. “I went to school and a lot of my friends are First Nations and in the summer, we’ll go to a neighbour’s farm and cut their hay.”
As he got older, he learned about First Nation reserves, colonialism, and residential schooling.
“Both are beyond sick and disgusting; pure hell is the best way to describe it,” Merchant said. “It breaks the heart and soul of people.
“What’s happened over the generations are just false promises, because they keep breaking down.”
With an online crowd-funding page on gofundme, Merchant is gathering contributions that will go to local social services for communities along the Highway of Tears.
“It can be subsidies to transportation, assistance funds for aboriginal women,” he said, adding that he’s looking to make contact with every First Nation community along the highway. “I’m looking to get the First Nation communities involved, as the needs can be different all over or the same.
“I would not pass through without a blessing to go through their territories, their home.”
Recently moved into a care home, Merchant has auto-immunal disease SLE lupus, early onset dementia, and diabetes.
“I am very aware that I have a limited time in which I will be physically able to make a difference in the world,” he said. “We can’t feel or understand unless we’re in those ladies shoes.”
More information on Brett’s walk can be found on https://www.gofundme.com/highwayoftears