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HIGHWAY OF TEARS by Jessica McDiarmid


A True Story of Racism, Indifference, and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

by Jessica McDiarmid

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-5011-6028-8
Publisher: Atria

A powerful account of an area of British Columbia in which women and girls are being murdered or disappearing without a trace.

Highway 16, which runs for 735 kilometers west from Prince Rupert in the northwest corner of B.C., is called the Highway of Tears because more than 30 girls and women, by far most of them members of Indigenous families, have been murdered or disappeared along that route. Canadian journalist and first-time author McDiarmid, who grew up near the highway, traces in agonizing detail the lives and fates of several of those women, but the narrative is much more than just a list of tragedies. The author, whose writing has appeared in the Associated Press and the Toronto Star, among other publications, uses the highway as a microcosm to shine a light on the racism against Indigenous people that stretches across Canada. The numbers are startling: murders or disappearances of between 1,000 and 4,000 (depending on who’s counting) women and girls, most of them Indigenous, over the past few decades. McDiarmid delves into the history of how racism has forced many Indigenous people into poverty, which in turn has led to drug addiction, crime, violence, and broken families. She also exposes the uncaring attitudes of many law enforcement agencies when the victims are Indigenous; and of the press, which devotes noticeably less space—if any at all—to murders and disappearances of Indigenous people compared with whites. The author, writing with deeply felt emotion, makes it abundantly clear that this racism persists today. If there is a weakness in her book, it is the sometimes-rough transitions among the several narrative elements—the personal stories, the indictments of law enforcement and the press, and the tumultuous history of the Indigenous people. Nonetheless, McDiarmid brings to light a little-known story that deserves more attention.

A difficult but essential read.