WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
A Sylix woman who was the victim of a frightening, threatening incident on a remote stretch of B.C. highway last week is speaking out about the too-common threats faced by Indigenous women and girls.
Rhonda Ned works for the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project as a medic near Jasper, Alta., just across the B.C. border.
Her workdays are spent stationed on mountainous, remote stretches of highway in a truck-mounted camper that serves as a mobile medical station. She tends to injuries at multiple spread-out worksites or to passing drivers. She works alone.
While on duty on Friday just before 6:15 p.m. MT, a large, lifted pickup truck pulled up behind her vehicle and parked on the B.C. side.
“As a medic, my first thought is, somebody needs help … But this particular vehicle pulled right up, almost touched the back of my vehicle with his high beams on,” Ned said in an interview.
“That’s when my intuition was going off knowing something was wrong.”
She locked her doors. Two men carrying flashlights got out of the truck and walked to her driver and passenger-side doors.
She said they started banging on her doors and windows, swearing at her and demanding she get out of the vehicle.
They called her a racial slur targeting Indigenous women and threatened to add her to the list of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
“They wanted to hurt me,” Ned said. “And my gut was turning that if they got in, I wouldn’t be here. Or I would be really, really hurt.”
Ned had a satellite phone and a two-way radio to reach her co-workers. She was able to call for help. She said the men drove off before anyone came.
RCMP are investigating the incident.
Ned says her hope is that sharing her story will draw attention to the threats Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people face.
“For so many years it’s been brushed aside and not talked about,” she said.
“We paint this picture of joy and happiness and [that] Canada’s loving and peaceful. However, there’s this dark side that people need to know about, people need to talk about.”
Urges others to be vigilant
Mounties confirmed their investigation of the incident but would not say much else.
“The investigation is ongoing but there are no details that can be released publicly at this time,” Staff Sgt. Kris Clark wrote in an email.
“There is currently no information to suggest that this is a recurring issue or that there is any ongoing risk to the public.”
Trans Mountain deferred largely to police when asked to comment.
“Ms. Ned followed procedure by submitting a report to the RCMP,” a spokesperson wrote. “Trans Mountain’s first priority is the safety of its workers and the communities we operate in. We take all incidents of this nature very seriously.”
Ned says since the incident, policies at her worksite have changed and she and other medics no longer work alone.
She says she understands no one may ever be arrested.
She couldn’t see the licence plate or the make of the vehicle the men were in because of snowy weather.
She said one man was wearing a ski mask and the other had his hood pulled up over his head, and all she could see was him having a short beard.
‘Strength and power’
In the days after the incident, Ned spoke to Kukpi7 Judy Wilson of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, a long-time advocate for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women for support.
Wilson says the ordeal Ned went through is all too common — and they often aren’t taken seriously.
“They fall through the cracks,” Wilson said. “So I think it’s well worth sharing this incident. So that might serve to warn other women and girls and Two-Spirit [people].”
Ned said she also wants victims of crimes like this to know they are not alone.
“I want to say something,” Ned said, “and give them strength and power enough to say something.”