Michele Thompson never had the chance to meet her aunt, Barbara Jack.
Jack was 14 when she disappeared after running away from her foster home in Whitehorse, where she was also forced to attend boarding school.
It was in 1974.
His remains were found on Gray Mountain a year later.
“She was very young when she disappeared and I don’t know if anyone’s been looking for her… It’s just kind of a heartbreaking story,” Thompson said in a May 5 interview.
“She was only 14… So that’s why I walk, it’s because she was my aunt.”
In Jack’s memory, Thompson has held a march in Whitehorse on Red Dress Day, also known as National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Awareness Day, for two consecutive years now.
Although she called the 2021 march “very informal,” Thompson said she has partnered with local groups this year, including the Whitehorse Native Women’s Circle and the Yukon Native Women’s Council, to formalize the event.
Accompanied by the sound of singers and drummers, hundreds marched from Whitehorse General Hospital to the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Center late Thursday morning, where a ceremonial fire was lit.
42 red dresses hung from tree branches along part of the route, 41 of which symbolized missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls in the Yukon and northern British Columbia and the last dress represented future victims.
Thompson said she was “very honored” and “extremely touched” by the walk’s participation.
“People are now aware of MMIWG2S+ and we can talk about murdered and missing women,” she said.
“We want justice. We want to see closure. We want to see resolution, we want reconciliation – we want everything for our wives, for our sisters, our mothers, our grandmothers, our nieces, our aunts, our daughters We want it all for them.
Whitehorse Aboriginal Women’s Circle executive director Natalie Taylor also applauded the number of people who attended Thursday’s march and ceremony.
“More and more people are learning about (the issue of) missing and murdered Indigenous women and Two-Spirit people and as a result, you know, they want to help, they want to be a part of it, they want to testify,” she said.
“They want to come together and learn and support the community, and so that’s great.”
In a speech after the ceremonial fire was lit, Jeanie McLean, Yukon Minister responsible for the Women’s and Gender Equity Branch, stressed that men and boys also need to be part of the conversation and solutions.
“You have an important role to play here – you are our ally, you are our protectors, you have a very specific role to play and I want to support you,” she said.
“(I want you) to think of your daughters, your nieces, your wives, your aunts, all the women in your life…Know that you are part of this and you are part of what we do in the Yukon and in across Canada and setting the course for the rest of the world.”
Yukon, in 2020, became the first jurisdiction in Canada to release a strategy in response to the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
An Accountability Forum will be held May 18-19 to take stock of progress.