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Mother walks in remembrance of daughters

Thursday, 24 October 2019. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Mother walks in remembrance of daughters

Stephanie English and a few far-travelling companions celebrate as they reach High River on their walking journey from Brocket to Calgary to raise awareness for missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. At this point they still had over 60 kilometres, or 78,000 steps, to go. From left are Jimmy Crowshoe and Wendy English in back, then Janice Randal, Alexciia English and Stephanie in front.   Photo courtesy of Stephanie English

Mother walks in remembrance of daughters

By Jess Harrington

The road from Brocket to Calgary stretches over 200 kilometres, or more than 260,000 steps.

Earlier this month, for the second year in a row, Piikani mother and activist Stephanie English walked this path to seek justice and healing following the loss of two daughters.

Stephanie lost her youngest daughter, Alison, in 2015. Alison, who was just 20, walked out of a psychiatric treatment ward in Rocky Mountain House and was later found dead, alongside her boyfriend, on the Sunchild First Nation.

The courts ruled the incident a double suicide, but her family disagrees.

One year later, almost to the day, Stephanie’s oldest daughter, Joey, went missing in Calgary. After two days, Stephanie learned that parts of Joey’s body had been discovered at different places throughout the city.

In 2017, a Calgary man was sentenced to 18 months in jail and three years probation for causing indignity to a human body in relation to Joey’s death.

According to an agreed statement of facts read at trial, after Joey died from an accidental overdose, Joshua Weise stored her body under his bed for a day before dismembering her and discarding her remains in garbage bags and a suitcase at several locations near his home.

Joey’s body has still not been completely recovered. According to Stephanie, police called off the search after 36 hours.

Stephanie says her daughters’ deaths reveal ways society fails and oppresses First Nations people, particularly women, and this is why she decided to start walking in 2018.

“How can a man do that to my daughter and walk out in 18 months to live a normal life?” she asks. “How am I supposed to move forward when [Joey] still sits in the landfill, when they didn’t even bring in the military or go above and beyond?”

“And how could the hospital just let Alison walk out of the psychiatric ward when she needed help?” she continues. “I don’t know if society is still trying to colonize us First Nations, but I’m doing this to bring awareness that justice needs to change.”

Stephanie has also taken on this project to come to terms with her grief, which caused her to turn to a toxic relationship and substance abuse for a time, until she realized the damage it was doing to her other children and grandchildren.

“I had to do this because I didn’t want to die,” she says. “I didn’t want to abandon my children to that cycle of grief and trauma and loss. Unless I speak up and start working through my home to break that cycle, it just carries on.”

Stephanie says she’s learning to find strength through a larger purpose, and each year it’s helping her move forward in a different way.

Last year, she says, she saw thousands of “flickerings,” telling her that her girls were still with her. She says that as she walked with just her mother, Patsy, she was free to reflect on these signs and feel her daughters’ presence even though they are now in the spirit world.

This year, not only did her mother join her on the journey again, but so did her sons, grandchildren, and a host of other family members and friends, who were all cheered on by supporters as they travelled.

Stephanie says this empowered her more than ever before to speak.

“This year, it felt like we were being carried and Mother Earth was just moving for us,” she says. “We received this unconditional love that just poured in from all areas, and that brought me to a better understanding of who and what and why I’m fighting.”

Both years, Stephanie’s walk ended at the Sisters in Spirit Vigil for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Calgary, where she shared her story with hundreds of fellow participants.

She says she will continue doing this as long as she can.

“It’s worth it. It’s worth every mile, every step, every pain, because it is healing. It is part of letting go.”

Between walks, Stephanie will continue fighting for justice and the memory of her loved ones.

To build upon her walk this year, Stephanie is holding a fundraiser to purchase a double headstone for Alison and Joey, so they can be remembered in Piikani.

On the Facebook page Justice for Joey English, which Stephanie has used to chronicle her journeys and connect with supporters, she is raffling off a series of homemade prizes.

At the time of this writing, squares for the raffle are still available for $20 each. To purchase, simply send a message through the Facebook page.