I concentrate on the candle in my hands. It’s flickering almost in time to the drumbeat and slow chanting of the Cowichan elders, mourning the unbelievable death of a beautiful teenage girl. And it really is unbelievable— you can see it on the faces of everyone gathered around the low stage, shocked and lost, concentrating on that drum and the chanted prayers like it’s the only thing tethering them to the earth.Lisez l’histoire de Tara Fietz
This piece is the result of reflection on the Take Back the Night Walk for Tyeshia Jones, which I attended three years ago. I was living on Vancouver Island at that time, and when I found out about Tyeshia’s murder and the subsequent Walk, I joined right away, along with my mother. It is so important, and absolutely vital, not just to honour and pay respect to Tyeshia, but also to take a firm part in making sure such atrocities do not happen again, to any of our women. Tyeshia’s Take Back the Night Walk was a memorial for a beautiful young spirit, and a stand for the protection of the rest of the beautiful souls in the province, our country, and indeed, in our world. I felt honoured to be a part of this, never forgetting the scenes, senses, and people from that February night. It’s something that will always be in my mind, that I will carry forever, and that I will call up throughout my whole life, to make a difference, spur a change, and light a fire in the world. Tyeshia’s Walk was such a respectful and beautiful event for her memory, her family and friends, the community, and indeed, the world, and a step to take back the night for our women. Tyeshia did not die in vain and will ever be remembered.
Based on a true reflection experienced on February 18, 2011 in Duncan, B.C.
It’s everywhere. It’s in the crowd, it’s in the crisp night air, it’s in drawn and hurting expressions of people, clustered up and huddled around their candles. Pain is so there it feels like a stand-in for clouds that should be hovering above the little Vancouver Island town, Duncan, like they have all February. It’s palpable, chokable, something you could even cut yourself on.
I concentrate on the candle in my hands. It’s flickering almost in time to the drumbeat and slow chanting of the Cowichan elders, mourning the unbelievable death of a beautiful teenage girl. And it really is unbelievable— you can see it on the faces of everyone gathered around the low stage, shocked and lost, concentrating on that drum and the chanted prayers like it’s the only thing tethering them to the earth. It’s only been three weeks since the body of Tyeshia Jones was found in the woods surrounding Duncan and the community hasn’t been able to heal. Tyeshia was a lovely, young, Native girl, who’s mutilated body has raised more issues than the search for her killer. The situation has irritated an old wound, one with too much history in it to scar over properly, one that keeps opening up: the question of bias treatment of Aboriginals by non-Aboriginals.
It took six days to find her body after she disappeared on January 22nd. While six days may not be long in the eyes of the Victoria RCMP, for the people of Duncan— Tyeshia’s family and friends— it was an astronomically long expanse of horrified time. Almost immediately, people started questioning. Muttering, murmurs. That old abrasion splitting open and the pus of doubt oozing freely. On one street corner, Why did it take so long for the cops to find her? In the grocery store, Did they really as hard as they could have? And all around the town and its surroundings, the most important whisper, gradually and inexorably growing louder, Would it have taken six days for a white girl to be found?
It’s still here, the doubt and the feeling that the people have been once again left with the short end of the stick. It’s even in the faces of the non-Aboriginals who are gathered here tonight. It’s tying us all together, woven in with that palpable pain, making a thread that wraps us all together as one hurting, upset, but comforting and strong entity. We are the change. We are the entity of revision, of retribution. We are the ones who remember Tyeshia, and all the other women, Native or no, who have been killed.
We are going to take back the night.
A dollop of candle wax drips down the side of the side of my taper and spreads across my knuckles like white lava. I cringe, but I accept it. It’s part of the pain. I’m sure I am not the only one here tonight with wax burns. And they aren’t even close to the wounds carried on the hearts of Tyeshia’s family, who are crying openly on the stage, their fists balling up the hems of their t-shirts which bear Tyeshia’s face, pulled over their autumn jackets.
We’re gathered here not only to remember her, but to show the Island, the province, and all of Canada that we will not accept this. We will not stand silent, we won’t let one more woman’s life be taken or abused. Because we are the change.
And that’s why we are all here to walk through the streets of Duncan, a candlelit vigil to take back the night.
As the drummer, elders and Tyeshia’s family move off, I carefully peel the solidified wax off my hand and roll it into a ball, dropping it among the roughly two thousand pairs of feet shuffling after their lead. Now there is dead silence. Even the Cowichan elders have stopped chanting. It’s just us, alone with the night and our thoughts.
A few people ahead of me, a woman starts sniffling and sobbing; she doesn’t try to muffle it. The woman next to her reaches out and they cling together, perhaps complete strangers, mourning as two hurt women, their crying rising up with foggy gusts to blur the stars.
It’s everywhere. It’s in all our senses. It’s heard in the sobs, seen in the numb expressions, smelled in the burning sage smudge stick an elder’s carrying to purify the crowd and the community. It’s completely permeable, totally consuming.
We reach the church, and the crowd gathers around the post that’s been made into a memorial for her. We all take turns, moving up to it, cooperating, assisting each other, to pay our respects. I take my turn. The pillar’s adorned with little candles, strings of beads, small objects, and a little framed photo of Tyeshia. She’s smiling; she is beautiful. Her eyes are sparkling and full of life, and her face is lit up, both within the photo and by the flickering candles around the frame. She looks so alive right now. Looking around me, I know that all these people— even those who didn’t know her, like me— they won’t let her die. They’ll keep her memory, her ideas and the things she said alive, and she will always be here. That’s the beauty in this tragedy. The consolation in the pain. There’s something other than pain.
I stand there for a moment longer, just feeling this great broken strength around me, and feeling blessed to be part of it. We can be broken, but together we can still be strong.
And it’s through this strength, and through gatherings like this that a change will be made, and horrors against women stopped. We’re taking the night back for Tyeshia, for this young girl who was murdered in summer, for all the hurt women in the world, for ourselves, and for our daughters.
Because no one should fear the night.