Kamloops resident becomes voice for her mom who died on Highway of Tears | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kamloops resident becomes voice for her mom who died on Highway of Tears

Rae Bennett is an Indigenous educational assistant in Kamloops. She is raising awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women and sharing her late mother's story.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Rae Bennett
July 01, 2021 - 7:00 PM

Kamloops resident, Rae Bennett, is one of thousands of people in British Columbia who have lost a loved one on Highway 16, also known as the Highway of Tears.

In 1997, Bennett’s mother Sandra Calahasen went missing from her home in Fort St John. Described in the local papers as a typically cheerful lady who worked many hours at the local Salvation Army, Sandra’s disappearance was considered unusual to her four children and people of the small community.

Bennett will never forget the horror of the day her mother was declared missing.

“We children were lined up on a couch and bombarded by local media,” Bennett recalled. “Everything was a blur at the time. I just followed along in a daze, not completely understanding what was happening around me.”

When Sandra’s remains were found along Highway 16 the following year, Bennett says she physically collapsed. The autopsy report showed signs of rape and blunt trauma to the skull. The children’s DNA was collected to confirm their mother’s identity. During the years that followed, the family fell apart and dispersed across the country.

“We didn’t know how to cope,” Bennett said. “Our mother was the glue that held us all together. I lost my close contact with my siblings. I was surviving and not processing the loss nor the horrifying events surrounding her death.”

This poster was created by Rae Bennett's students in school district 73 in Kamloops. Students painted positive words about themselves around the title
This poster was created by Rae Bennett's students in school district 73 in Kamloops. Students painted positive words about themselves around the title "I am".
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Rae Bennett

Bennett went on to complete college, have children of her own and settle in Kamloops. She has been working for over a decade as an Indigenous educational assistant in school district 73.

She keeps with her a newspaper clipping from 1997 about her mom’s disappearance and a book in which her mom’s name can be found. Bennett describes her life as a labyrinth of twists and turns that have led her to the centre, and like Highway 16, her journey has been lined with tears.

This year, standing in the centre of the labyrinth, Bennett has been processing her past, opening old wounds and learning how to heal. She is finding her voice and her courage to tell her mom’s story and speak up for murdered and missing Indigenous women. It has taken many years for her to come to the place of courage she is at now.

“My mom, whose cultural background is Metis, worked at the Salvation Army, had a very generous spirit and was well loved by her family and community members," she said. "My favourite memory of her was when she would make the best oven bannock and goulash for supper. I believe she wants us girls to continue to be a strong voice, have awareness of our surroundings and practise self-love.

"Every year 2000 Indigenous women are murdered and go missing. Teaching girls how to love themselves, be aware of their surroundings and to have the confidence to stick up for themselves will help them be the change. As for boys, they also need to be taught self-love and to respect our life-givers.”


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