RCMP investigate theft at missing and murdered Indigenous women memorial near Campbell River

RCMP investigate theft at missing and murdered Indigenous women memorial near Campbell River
Part of the memorial before it was stolen is pictured.

The Campbell River RCMP is investigating repeated thefts at a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit (MMIWG2S) memorial just outside Campbell River.

Leslie Hnatiw, an organizer of the signs that say “Justice 4 Indigenous” and “Search The Landfill,” says she first noticed the signs and dresses were taken around Feb. 10.

She put two more red dresses up in their place in time for the annual Women’s Memorial March on Feb. 14, but found the next day that these two dresses were taken again as well.

On Feb. 15, she contacted police and Campbell River RCMP have confirmed with CHEK News that they are investigating.

First incident at memorial

The sign was first set up in January 2023, and in the year since it opened Hnatiw says that it has “never been touched.”

The memorial is located along Highway 19 near We Wai Kai First Nation land.

Hnatiw says organizers have spoken with the City of Campbell River, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Mainroad Contracting, the group hired to maintain the highway in the area.

She says all three groups have been extremely supportive of the memorial.

“I did wonder if it was them (Mainroad) that removed it, but they’ve been really supportive and they actually stated that they would never touch any red dresses or Indigenous signs along the highways,” she said in an interview on Feb. 28.

Hnatiw hopes the incident will be investigated as a hate crime, though RCMP say they are still looking into the matter.

“It’s important that we follow evidence to find out what happened in order to determine if there was malicious intent in this matter, and at this point that isn’t clear,” said the Campbell River RCMP in a statement on Feb. 26. “We would ask that anyone with information contact the local RCMP office at 250-286-6221.”

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The memorial before it was stolen is pictured. (Submitted)

‘No space for racism’

Hnatiw says the repeated thefts at the memorial have been painful for her and the wider First Nations community in the area.

“We did this (made the memorial) to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women, and families of those women, and we are looking for awareness as well as justice,” she said.

“I’m hoping that this person is caught, or these people are caught, and that they’re charged with a hate crime, as it is a hate crime.”

She says that the struggles of Indigenous people, particularly missing women, have been repeatedly silenced in Canada and that the stolen signs are another way to minimize the issue.

“[We’re] making a loud message to the rest of Canada that this isn’t OK anymore, there’s no space for racism in our country anymore,” said Hnatiw. “This is native land, this is stolen native land that these settlers are living on, and they need to start respecting it as such.”

Hnatiw says there’s already plans to rebuild the memorial and to make it a more permanent site.

She adds that Indigenous Elders from across Vancouver Island, spanning from “Port Hardy to Victoria,” are working on a large MMIWG2S display in time for the spring.

Adam ChanAdam Chan

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