Challenging Silence and Inaction with Lorelei Williams

May 03, 2023

On May 2, 2023, the Office of Indigenous Education and Indigenous Student Recruitment held a virtual lunch-and-learn event, featuring keynote speaker Lorelei Williams, a member of the Skatin and Sts’ailes First Nations and founder of Butterflies in Spirit. The event marked Red Dress Day.

The event began with a powerful reminder from Angela Wolfe, Director of Indigenous Recruitment, to take care of ourselves and our spirits while processing the content being presented. She shared her personal experience of having a missing relative and the almost 40-year journey to uncover the truth. As a result, Angela's words resonated with many of the attendees and set the tone for the rest of the event.

Lorelei’s work in raising awareness about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was introduced by Layla Dumont, Manager of the Office of Indigenous Education. Layla highlighted Lorelei’s past work as the Women’s Coordinator at the Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Centre and her current volunteer efforts for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Coalition in Vancouver, which earned her the 2017 Everyday Political Citizen Award.

During her presentation, Lorelei shared personal experiences of the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, which she referred to as an “ongoing genocide.” She spoke about her aunt, Belinda Williams, who has been missing since 1977, and her cousin, Tanya Holyck, who was murdered by serial killer Robert Pickton in 1996. Lorelei shared her struggles with the media and police not taking their cases seriously, and the challenge of raising awareness for decades until both cases were finally recognized. She used these stories to highlight the systemic issues faced by Indigenous communities, including laws and policies that work against them, and the racism that continues to circulate within the Vancouver Police Department. 

Lorelei shared her journey towards being an advocate, including her experiences volunteering at the National Brigade (Search for the Disappeared) in Mexico, participating in the search for DNA and human remains. She discussed working on various cases, including Chelsea Poorman, Noelle O’Soup, Tatyanna Harrison, and Lisa Marie Young, and emphasized the importance of holding police and media accountable. 

Reflecting on Red Dress Day, Lorelei stressed the importance of educating ourselves about the history and issues faced by Indigenous communities, and not relying solely on Western teachings and media. She recommended reading "Suffer the Little Children" by Tamara Starblanket and "The Colonial Problem" by Lisa Monchalin as valuable resources for further education. 

Lorelei concluded her presentation and left the audience with a call to challenge silence, tolerance, and inaction in response to the crisis and not let women's and girls' names and stories be lost. She emphasized, "A lot of names get lost, and instead, the focus is placed on the killer. We’ve got to remember and honour those lost." 

To learn more about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and how you can support their advocacy efforts, please visit this website, or connect with the support line at 1-844-413-6649. Together, we can make a difference.