Stephanie English and her mother, Patsy. Illustration: Eric Dyck

Stephanie English: A 200-km trek for justice

I’m hoping to make better strides in life.’

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Stephanie English walks alongside her mother, Patsy, to remember her daughters; she walks to heal, and she walks for change.

This past October marked the third year they have walked from their home on the Piikani Nation, near Pincher Creek, to Calgary—a 200-km trek for justice for Stephanie’s daughters, Joey and Alison.

They lost both women to tragedy. Alison died in June 2015 of a suspected suicide. One year later, Joey died of an overdose before police found her dismembered body in various locations across Calgary. All of Joey’s remains have never been found.

The lack of closure around her daughters’ deaths has haunted English. She wants Indigenous people to receive the same attention and respect as others, in particular by police and the judicial system.

“We need to bring into the public eye how First Nations people are falling through the cracks,” she said.

We’re still seeking fairness and justice. It’s a struggle, but it’s a good one.

Stephanie English

Racial injustice was brought to light in 2020, and “people are starting to have a better understanding about systemic racism, but we still face obstacles.”

Public awareness aside, walking has also been curative. “Walking has been part of my healing big-time,” English affirmed.

“Through all this walking, I’m hoping to make better strides in life. I am literally walking and working on myself. It’s tough,” she said.

“The more that I walk, the more I understand about myself and my community. We’re still seeking fairness and justice. It’s a struggle, but it’s a good one.”

Patsy has been the cornerstone in English’s healing as she returned to her family home and traditional ways after Joey’s death.

“My mother has constantly reassured me that it’s okay to feel broken with all the tragedy, grief, trauma and loss,” English said. “I want others to know this too. It takes time and work to heal.”

The walks have extended healing to Indigenous communities by helping them acknowledge their losses. “For our people, it’s been kind of a hidden thing, losing our daughters and other loved ones,” Patsy said.

Conversations are happening. We’ve had a lot of walkers with us, and believers that things can change.

Patsy English

“We walk not only for us but for others who are grieving. We walk for those who aren’t yet ready to.”

It is, in a way, their destiny to walk together as Patsy’s Blackfoot name means “walks far” and Stephanie’s Blackfoot name is “walking holy woman.”

Patsy has been inspired by what she’s witnessed on the walks. “There’s been an opening up of people’s minds, Indigenous and non-Indigenous,” she said.

“Conversations are happening. We’ve had a lot of walkers with us, and believers that things can change.”

For 2021, English hopes to continue the conversation. “I’m hoping that people stop living in silence,” she said.

“Every year that we walk, there’s more people coming out of their shell and speaking up. And more people are finally starting to listen, too.”

Colleen Seto is a writer and editor born and raised in Calgary. Her work has appeared in Avenue Calgary, WestJet Magazine, Today's Parent and National Geographic Books.

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