Lisa Marie Young's cousin Adrienne Martin, Uncle Joe and Richard Martin walking for Lisa and mom, Joanne Young, in Nanaimo on June 21.
Since 2002, our daughter, our sister, Joanne Young has called us to walk together and hold her missing daughter, Lisa Marie Young, in prayer and love and light. Lisa Marie, my step granddaughter, was last seen June 30, 2002.
This year we walked for her mother Joanne too.
On June 21, 2017, at the young age of 54, Joanne’s grief cut short her time with us. Her and her daughter’s earthly stories ended by the same hand.
It is an incomplete ending, too much of the story left undone and too many questions left unanswered. “Her dream was to become a grandma,” her Mom, Cecelia Arnet, shared.
Challenged with grief and limited time, Joanne’s sister, Carol Frank organized the walk that was both the 2017 Walk of Love and Hope for Lisa and a Memorial Walk for her sister.
Joanne’s father, Moses Martin, asked her big sister “Caw-wots”, Carol, to coordinate a special walk in her memory and in honour of all the walks and efforts Joanne had undertaken to keep the search for her daughter active and to keep love and hope around her memory alive. (Joanne called her sister “Caw-wots” because of Carol’s very red hair when they were toddlers.)
Over 60 family members, friends and even some strangers came together to honour Joanne’s life and to lend their voices to her 15-year quest.
As we bore witness to the deadly conclusion of her grief, we remembered her strength and kindness. Her father recalled how she always had something supportive to say to every person that crossed her path. Her sister and mother recalled many friendly “hellos” and conversations when they’d be out shopping around Nanaimo.
The friendly support of Nanaimo community members was felt by the family from the many words and honks from those passing us while we walked, including honks from an ambulance and an RCMP car circling to check on everyone’s safety.
“She’d say, ‘Mom there’s so many people here, isn’t that nice?’” said Joanne’s Mom. “She’d just be in heaven...and people just showed up, strangers we wouldn’t even know, people that came and said, ‘hey, we’ll walk with you.’ It made me feel really proud of my family, being there for us.”
“It warmed my heart that Carol organized her sister’s walk in her memory.” said her Mom. “She’d be happy now to see us do the things she used to do, to keep Lisa’s memory alive, to see we care…I felt good, but I felt sad too because I remember.”
And we celebrate. We celebrate the mother’s strength to have carried on the fight for her daughter 15 years after her disappearance. She fought from every angle she knew how. She sought to keep the RCMP engaged in the search, she organized vigils, she would to listen to every theory about what happened to her daughter even when the sources were questionable and some of us wondered if they were just sick people trying to tear at a mother’s psyche.
Carol shared that Joanne tried to hide her and her daughter’s First Nations ancestry because she didn’t want people to assume things, to label her. You know the things we mean. She didn’t want her daughter blamed for her own disappearance.
Lisa was not a sex trade worker. She was not living on the streets. Lisa was a local born and raised Nanaimo girl. She attended elementary school and high school in Nanaimo. She is remembered with warmth and friendship by high school friends, one, Allison Crowe, having written a song for her that brought much comfort to her family.
Lisa had just finished her last day as a server at a downtown establishment in Nanaimo, was going to move into a new apartment and start a new job the following week.
“I gave her a hug and kiss that night about 6 p.m. and said, ‘Next time I’m in town we’ll go see Great Grandpa Barney (Late Barney Williams Sr.) because he liked to get his picture taken with her.’ When she’d worked at McDonalds before Dad would often go over to see her,” said Lisa’s grandma, Cecilia
The family, being close, knew Lisa’s disappearance was not normal, so people from the Tla-o-qui-aht community were out searching for her just a few days after she went missing, June 30, 2002. The RCMP didn’t go out to search until September even though tips were coming in. That bewildered and frustrated not only Joanne, but the entire family.
Somewhere over the years, what started as a mother’s search for her daughter, her search for answers about her disappearance grew into something bigger.
Joanne became a voice for those women that can no longer speak for themselves and she helped us start to see women differently. She never said that was what she was doing, but that’s what it was. Her continued outpouring of love, hope and prayers for her daughter started to change the way many see what is happening in our communities.
Awareness began to rise about the very real, horrifying number of women going missing. Many in Nuu-chah-nulth have lost a female member either to murder or they are simply missing. Awareness began to rise that every one of these women was loved, that they had mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, daughters and…sons, fathers, uncles, cousins and brothers.
Somewhere over the years, a connection was made between Lisa’s disappearance and the murdered and missing indigenous women’s movement.
Mowachaht/Muchlaht’s and Butterflies in Spirit dancer, Lillian Howard, and her daughter Cheleah flew into Nanaimo for the July 17, 2017 walk to support the family and to raise awareness of the immensity of Vancouver Island’s disappearing women. Lillian’s family grieves the losses of two of her aunts as well.
At the July 17, 2017 walk, it was announced our family would continue with Joanne’s annual Walk of Love and Hope for Lisa until answers are found.
In our Nuu-chah-nulth traditions, we believe as family and friends we are medicine to one another. On July 17, 2017 the love and support was medicine for our family. Joanne’s mother reflected, “I felt like all this weight on my shoulders became lighter, it seemed to calm me down seeing my family there walking with me and I was so happy when we said we’ll do it every year.”