In this six-part series, Al Jazeera tells the stories of some of the Indigenous women and girls who have gone missing or been murdered along an infamous stretch of highway in British Columbia, Canada.
Warning: The following article contains content, including descriptions of sexual violence, that some readers may find disturbing.
- Read part 1: The stench of death
- Read part 2: Snatched away
- Read part 3: Hunted
- Read part 4: A lingering evil
British Columbia, Canada - On a crisp February morning, on the edge of the city of Terrace, plumes of smoke rise from the chimneys of a row of tiny steel-roofed homes.
From Gladys Radek’s kitchen window, the view is of towering mountains skirted by a thick forest. A trickle of sunlight pierces the low-lying clouds as if to tease winter with its warmth.
Gladys grips a cup of hot coffee and looks outside. “I get to see this every day,” she gestures to the window and smiles.
Her one-bedroom home is about 20 feet long and 10 feet wide (about 6 metres by 3 metres). It is run-down and cluttered, but to her, it is a place of peace in a life that has been anything but tranquil.
Indigenous artwork adorns her walls. One - a striking painting depicting Highway 16 and an Indigenous woman crying blood-red tears - was painted by Wade Raw Eater, a Vancouver-based artist and former partner of Georgina Papin, a Cree woman who was murdered by serial killer Robert Pickton sometime after she disappeared in 1999.
Indigenous music plays on a continual loop - a steady beat of drums and melodic singing. Gladys keeps it on 24/7 so as to be saturated by the sounds of her culture. It helps to keep her driven, she says. And she must stay driven considering the mission she has taken on - lives depend upon it.
For almost two decades, Gladys has lobbied governments and organised rallies and other events to bring attention to the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
The 65-year-old is a member of the Wet’suwet’en Nation located about an hour’s drive north of Terrace. Not only is she a leading advocate for MMIWG, but she is also a mother, a grandmother and a survivor.
“I managed to live to tell about it,” she says, explaining that she relies on prayer to help her through the various abuses and hardships she has endured.
“There’s a Creator up there who has answered my prayers ... but my story is by far not unique because it’s happened to so many of us.”