Natowawakii English has walked the nearly 200 kilometre stretch of Highway 2 from Brocket to Calgary since 2018.
It’s part of Calling My Spirit Back, an annual vigil and walk to remember the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, men and 2-spirit people.
Unfortunately, Natowawakii’s family has been touched by this.
The death of her daughter, Joey English, gained a lot of attention. The 25-year-old was reported missing on June 9, 2016. Her body had already been found, and would be later identified by the family.
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“Joey’s body was dismembered and spread around Calgary, Crescent Heights Parks and the landfills,” said Natowawakii.
Her head and torso were brought home four months later, but her limbs are still missing.
“The long wait had a huge impact on myself, my mental, my emotional and my physical being of who I am as Niitsitapi Blackfoot woman.”
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Natowawakii’s story is one of many. It’s why she speaks out, offers support, and walks every year.
On Saturday, she was joined by family and friends. The group left Brocket at sunrise, stopping in Nanton for the night. On Sunday, they continued to Calgary to join the Sisters in Spirit Vigil planned for Stephen Ave. Monday at 11:30.
“It’s important as community members to reach out and to show that we love and support each other,” said Autumn EagleSpeaker, Natowawakii’s sister. “Because its not just about individual families, it’s about the whole collective because we’re all related in this walk of life.”
EagleSpeaker is proud of her family and the work being done to make sure these stories, and spirits, are never forgotten.
She believes there’s strength in numbers. It’s why she joins the walk.
“If my daughter were to go missing or something would happen to them, I would hope that someone would show up for me. So I’m always here for her,” she said, hugging Natowawakii.
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The English family started walking in 2018. That first year was only Natowawakii and her mother, Patsy English.
Patsy remembers getting to Calgary and realizing, for the first time, that her family wasn’t alone.
“When I turned around and I saw all these weeping mothers and grandmothers, that’s when it hit me,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. We’re not alone. It happened to their family members too.’”
Patsy said for a long time, it wasn’t spoken about on reserve.
“A lot of our family members have gone and disappeared, but nothing really has been said. I think with this awareness, it’s breaking the shell and the doors are starting to open.”
EagleSpeaker believes the silence is a direct result of the intergenerational trauma associated with residential schools.
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“By doing this walk, by speaking out, by creating awareness, they’re breaking that cycle,” she said.
The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released in 2019 with 231 individual Calls for Justice. Still, the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people continues to increase. The number of those affected is still unknown.
Still, year after year, the English family and many others walk for them. Making sure those spirits are never lost or forgotten.
“We just have to keep moving on in the most positive way, gentlest way, and compassionate way we know how,” said Natowawakii.
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