Alberta woman who lost 2 daughters turns sorrow to hope in 200-km trek to Calgary for MMIW vigil

Stephanie English has endured the loss of two children.

As she prepared last week to set out on a 200-kilometre trek from the Piikani Nation in southern Alberta to Calgary, she said she’s learned that through the storm there is light. 

  • WATCH | Follow her along the long walk to Calgary in the video above

“It’s been a long journey. I walk in honour of my daughters’ names, to keep their legacy alive, to let their story be told of just how it is for us Niitsitapi, us First Nations people,” she said of the walk she’s undertaken for the past three years.

“I’m making a clear path for our younger ones. So they don’t have to go through what my mom went through, what my grandma went through and what I went through.”

In 2016, English’s daughter, Joey English, died of a drug overdose. Her body was later subjected to what a judge would call a “selfish” and “savage” crime.

Rather than call 911 when he found English dead, the man she had been doing drugs with stored her body under his bed for a day before dismembering her. 

He put her remains in garbage bags and a suitcase and discarded them in several locations near his home.

‘Why did they stop the search?’

Two days after English was reported missing by her family, some of her remains were discovered in a wooded area in Calgary’s Crescent Heights neighbourhood.

Police searched a Calgary landfill in an attempt to find more of English’s remains, but called off the search after four months. 

Joey English, who was 25 when she died of an overdose, was the mother of three children. (Submitted by Stephanie English)

“Why did they stop the search? Is that what they think of us? Junk? Garbage? She’s in the landfill. Why did they stop?” English said at the time.

Joshua Weise pleaded guilty to a charge of indignity to a human body and was sentenced to 18 months in jail plus a three-year period of probation with substance abuse treatment. 

Family and friends decried the sentence as too lenient, but the Crown prosecutor on the case said at the time the longest sentence he could hope for was 18 to 24 months in jail. 

Still looking for answers

English said her daughter was an independent woman who “always had a laugh, she always had a smile, regardless how hard life could be.”

Her tragic death was the second time her mother would lose a daughter in the space of a year.

Alison English will be remembered by her mother for her charisma and laughter. (Submitted by Stephanie English)

Joey’s younger sister, Alison English, died in 2015 in what RCMP said was a suicide. But Stephanie English doesn’t agree.

“Five years later, we still don’t have answers. We still don’t have answers for her,” she said of Alison, remembering her charisma, kindness, gentleness and compassion.  

“And she was really funny.”

Vigil marks end of yearly voyage

English said she felt betrayed by how her daughters’ cases were handled.

So she makes the annual journey to Calgary, in part, to try to raise awareness about the challenges Indigenous people face, on and off reserves.

“People need to start waking up,” she said.

Stephanie English has lost two daughters in tragic circumstances. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

“I will keep walking every year until some change is really going to happen,” she said.

In the meantime, English said, her trust in the creator is helping to make her strong.

“Even sometimes when it flickers, just a little bit, don’t lose it. Just hold on. Hold on for dear life,” she said. 

After arriving in Calgary on Sunday, English and her companions joined the Sisters in Spirit gathering at Olympic Plaza, an annual event to honour the more than 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

A young woman dances in front of the crowd gathered at Calgary City Hall for the Sisters of Spirit vigil held on Oct. 4, 2020. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

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