Losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare and one Audrey Auger knows too well.
Her 14-year-old daughter, Aielah Saric-Auger, was found in 2006 along the Highway of Tears — a notorious section of Highway 16 in British Columbia where dozens of bodies have been discovered since the 1970s.
In her daughter’s honour, Auger set out on the Highway of Hope spiritual healing awareness walk, which led her along 468 kilometres of Alberta highways towards Edmonton. She and her boyfriend, Kevin Soto, began at the Gift Lake Metis Settlement north of Lesser Slave Lake and passed through Westlock on Dec. 28 before reaching their destination late last week.
“We’re giving the awareness for what happened to my daughter,” she said. “We want to get the awareness out there to understand how difficult it is when we lose a family member.”
The walk is done in four sections, representing the aboriginal belief of a four-year healing journey.
When they reached Edmonton, they concluded the second leg of the healing journey and will continue the walk from Edmonton to Jasper next year. They are then expected to return to Prince George in 2013.
“It’s helping me find myself. It’s helping me gain my sanity back and as a woman, it’s helping me find who I am because I lost myself when I lost my baby,” she said. “I buried myself when I buried my daughter.”
Auger’s daughter was last seen on Feb. 2, 2006 after heading to the mall in Prince George with her siblings. She never returned home.
Her body was found near Tabor Mountain, 22 kilometres east of Prince George, on Feb. 10, 2006 and her murder remains unsolved.
“They never found the people that murdered my daughter,” she said. “She went to play with her friends and never made it home and seven days later, they found her body in the ditch.”
It is an aboriginal belief that life is a circle, which is why she said she has decided to eventually return to the origin of her journey and the place of her daughter’s death.
“It’s a full circle we’re making, representing the circle of life,” she said. “It’s the circle of life that keeps us going every day.”
She said she will walk in any kind of weather, as her ancestors did when moving their camps and said she will practice aboriginal traditions along the way, including offering tobacco when passing a roadside grave and smudging every morning.
When the sun starts to set, the pair looks for a place to camp along the roadside.
“This is awesome to stay out here and to camp and know that I’m doing this for a good cause. It helps to motivate me knowing that I’m getting that awareness out there, especially to the youth,” she said.
The journey first began on Aug. 16, 2007 when Auger walked from Prince George to the Gift Lake Metis Settlement, where her daughter is buried.
At this time, Auger said she was homeless and an alcoholic.
“I became homeless after the passing of my daughter because the trauma was just so severe for me to handle at that time,” she said, adding that during this time, she turned to alcohol.
“It was very, very, very difficult for me because I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t myself spiritually, mentally, physically or emotionally,” she said. “I was distorted totally and I don’t remember a lot.”
In the last year, she gave up alcohol and said she has been working hard on herself so that she can finally heal from the loss of her daughter. She has a place to call home now and is working towards starting a career.
“This is a walk that helps me deal with my own personal issues and my grieving and my addictions,” she said. “I welcome anyone in the circle because it is a healing walk and I encourage people to come join if they want during their own healing.”
In the first part of her journey, Auger said she couldn’t admit that her daughter was really gone.
“Even though I did the first walk, I felt like I was still looking for her. This time, I’ve let her go,” she said. “This is a whole different healing journey for me.”
She said she plans to go back to university to study culinary arts so she can work towards her plan of opening a food truck called “Sweetie Pies Bannock Express”, which is named in honour of her daughter, whose nickname was Sweetie Pie.
The walk is completely donation-funded, and Auger said they are always looking for donations of gas to fuel the support vehicle driven by Donna Giroux and food for the walkers to eat.
For more information or to donate, visit highwayofhope.yolasite.com or contact Auger at 587-988-1204.