In this six-part series, Al Jazeera tells the stories of some of the indigenous women and girls who went missing or were killed along a notorious stretch of highway in British Columbia, Canada.
Warning: The following article contains content that may be offensive to some readers.
British Columbia, Canada – Mike Balczer pensively follows the edge of a white coffee mug on an icy February morning. He took a deep breath and looked up. His hair is covered with a black and white bandana and a cap. His trademark attire – black leather and black and white flannel – bears the marks that distinguish him as a nomad – a Crazy Indian Brotherhood nomad.
The Crazy Indian Brotherhood started in 2007 in Winnipeg, Manitoba and now has branches throughout Canada and in the south to California and Oklahoma. It looks like a motorcycle gang, but Mike says the tough image is just for appearance. “We protect women and children around here. We patrol the streets and look out for the vulnerable. ” And the uniform helps intimidate the town’s drug dealers, he adds.
But it’s not just the local drug dealers that are in Mike’s mind. He’s looking for a killer, or possibly killers, in Smithers.
The small town in northwestern British Columbia has a population of just over 5,300 people. It is home to the remains of settler borders and indigenous nations in a valley between high snow-capped mountains, surrounded by rows of lodge pole pine, spruce, sub-alpine balsam spruce, aspen, birch and cottonwood trees.
Although a confessional wanderer, Mike Smithers has been calling home on and off for the past 20 years. He is a member of the Wit’Dat Nation (Lake Babine Nation) about a two-hour drive east and as a hereditary chief is part of a traditional management system responsible for decision-making and cultural practices. When he became a leader, his elders gave him the name “Person of many”.