Don’t ever become comfortable with violence.
Jody Leon, who together with Meagan Louis has been working passionately for several years to raise awareness of murdered and missing women, speaks of the need to ensure that violence doesn’t become an accepted part of people’s lives.
Leon first went on a walk for justice in 2011. She was inspired by Bernie Williams and Gladys Radek, who co-founded the Walk4Justice, their first walk in 2008 from Vancouver to Ottawa. ‘Gramma’ Mabel Todd, who was in her eighties and took part, was also an inspiration. Then there was witnessing the horrific impact that the Pickton murders had on Indigenous communities and on people who worked on the case.
In 2014, Leon’s work became even more personal.
“I started working to raise awareness in my own direct Splatsin First Nation when women started going missing here and then I started doing information road blocks, organizing searches, organizing walks and rallies on Valentine’s Day, doing candlelight vigils… and then leading a flyer campaign to get the pictures of the missing women out there,” she says.
Leon co-organized an 118-kilometre walk this past May for three missing women, Deanna Wertz, Caitlin Potts and Ashley Simpson, who were last seen in Splatsin traditional territory. The walk began on Yankee Flats Road, where Deanna Wertz and Ashley Simpson were living, all the way to Orchard Park Mall in Kelowna, one of the last sightings of Caitlin Potts. Potts had been living in Enderby.
A current flyer campaign focuses on 18-year-old Traci Genereaux, whose remains were discovered Oct. 21 on the Sagmoen farm in Silver Creek. She went missing in Vernon on May 29.
“My heart goes out to her family and her siblings. Although the idea is to keep the women, they are gone but not forgotten, it’s really tough to know that one is for sure gone… It’s really devastating for everybody who thinks about it because we all have nieces or daughters or people that we know, we would just be devastated if any of that happened to our family members.”
The flyer campaign is to help gather information for police about Genereaux’s last days.
She hopes people will be moved to work for justice.
“I would also say that I hope when people continue to hear these stories, and face these realities, that this is really what’s happening in the landscape of our world today.
“I hope women and men – people – will rise up and become advocates. Go on the walks, organize the walks, talk to your MLAs about that you want the question of murdered and missing women to be addressed, that you want to make sure the police have the resources they need to do their job, that the families are supported in the way they need to be when they’re facing these traumatic events and that violence never has a place to feel comfortable where we live. And that everyone becomes advocates and doesn’t allow violence to become comfortable.”
She says prior to the discovery of human remains on the Sagmoen farm, the response was that the site had nothing to do with murdered and missing women.
“Now we have confirmation that there was one on the site. Now there is the devastating feeling; what are the families going to have to face going forward? There is concern now that the snow has come in, what impact does that have on the situation?”
She hopes for a number of things: for answers, closure and support for the families who are really needing it; and “for the police out on the site, to think about them, the hard work they’re having to do to get these answers, to wish them the best getting all the facts, that those answers come for them.”
Leon notes that authorities haven’t been able to figure out exactly how many murdered and missing women there are in B.C.
“This has been going on before Pickton.”
She says she has a hope for every woman in the province who faces fears or concerns.
“That she knows 100 per cent going forward that she’s supported, protected and she’s not going to be violated in any way. And her concerns will be taken seriously and addressed, and all the answers will come quickly, either to find her or find out what happened.”
Out of the missing and murdered women inquiry and other past studies, Leon would like to see the many people and professions who cross women’s lives become strong advocates in the roles they play.
“Is there anything we can do to change anything? Or improve anything? Not that they’re responsible, but I think we all have to come forward and figure out a solution.”