An East Kootenay man who’s walking 1236 km along Hwy. 16, raising money to protect at-risk Aboriginal women, made a stop in Burns Lake last week.
Brett Merchant, 56, and his dog Kura, a 10-year-old Siberian husky-wolf cross, attended a ‘meet and greet’ at the Burns Lake and District Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 28.
During the meet and greet, local drummers performed for him and blessed him to continue his journey.
Merchant and Kura started their walk at the British Columbia/ Alberta border on Sept. 1, 2016. He expects to arrive at his final destination, Old Masset in Haida Gwaii, on Dec. 31, 2016.
When asked what motivated him to embark on this journey, he said he’s seen firsthand the struggles of Aboriginal people.
“As I grew up I witnessed the struggles Aboriginal people had and still have to deal with and the injustices towards this population,” he said. “This is my way of giving back and increasing awareness for the families and victims of the Highway of Tears murders.”
While the RCMP says at least 18 women went missing or were murdered along Hwy. 16 and the adjacent Hwy. 97 and Hwy. 5 since the 1970s, many people living in Northern B.C. believe that number could be higher.
“I’ve seen too much pain and division,” he continued. “But we’re all the same. I want to increase awareness, and this is the little piece I can do; awareness helps people heal.”
Although Merchant faces several health issues – including diabetes and early onset dementia -, he didn’t let those challenges stop him. Instead, he seems them as motivating factors.
“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.
Merchant is raising money through Go Fund Me to support initiatives that will protect women such as women’s shelters.
“It is my belief that this is the best place for the money to be directed because it will help empower the next generation of Aboriginal women,” he said. “It will help provide women with an alternative safe, emergency shelter to go to.”
As of Sept. 28, he had raised $4240. His goal is to raise $50,000 by the end of his walk.
“While I cannot undo the murders that have occurred along the Highway of Tears, I hope that by raising awareness during my 1236 km walk I can help prevent further injustices from happening,” he said.
You can follow Merchant’s journey by liking his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/walkforhighwayoftears/
To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/highwayoftears