On the Highway of Tears

Kevin Comeau of Crown Lands writes about the National Inquiry into Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and working with Tanya Tagaq.

“We honour the memory of all missing and murdered Métis, First Nations and Inuit women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people including the spirits of the missing or murdered whose families shared with us. You were taken, but you are not forgotten; your lives, dreams, hopes and losses are now forever a part of Canada’s living history.”

National Inquiry into Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls Final Report (2019)

I’d like to talk about our song “End of the Road” and what it means. This song is very close to mine and Cody’s heart. It highlights the Highway of Tears, a 720-kilometer stretch of Highway 16, also known as the Yellowhead Highway. It is the road that links Prince George and Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia. Somewhere between 18 and 80 women, children, and two-spirit people have gone missing on this road. No one has been apprehended to this day. All investigations have been controversially deleted by the RCMP. It is a grim reminder of the horrors that Indigenous People bravely suffer every day at the hands of our Government. We must stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. We must stand up for, and do, what is right. The National Inquiry into Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIWG) was published in 2019 and it declares that Canada has carried out a genocide under international law. That is not to be taken lightly. Here we are. What are we going to do about it? We owe them answers, and we owe them action. 

While we were writing “End of the Road,” I was listening to Ryan McMahon’s Thunder Bay podcast, presented by Canadaland. It was eye-opening. In a moving multi-part series, the podcast highlights the systemic racism built into Canada. Thunder Bay is statistically the most dangerous place in the world for young Indigenous people. The stories of unsolved murders and missing persons made us dive deeper into our research. After some reading, we became fixated on the Highway of Tears. The more we read and educated ourselves, the more we realized that we needed to write about it. We hope that the song will help effect real change now. 

We worked out the music over the course of a week as we did some reading. The song poured out of us. The line “Stolen Sisters in the Night/Return to the Ground Below” eludes to Glooscap of Mi’qmaw legend. The line “In a sea of stars” refers to the infamous and inhumane Starlight Tours, also known as the Saskatchewan Freezing deaths, where police continue to arrest Indigenous people and abandon them out of town in the winter to die. The Saskatchewan Police have repeatedly tried to delete and alter public records of these murders. As you can see, this kind of violence runs deep in our society, our government, and our country. This is not ok. We need to fix this! 

We were able to work with directors Alex P. Smith and Tim Myles alongside producer and writer Sage Nokomis Wright. We couldn’t have asked for a better team to bring this vision to the screen. We love both of their work independently and I think that they came together beautifully for the video. The dance is such a powerful piece. The dancers were Teineisha Richards, Kennedy Bomberry, Katie Couchie, and Nishina Loft. Teineisha led the choreography and it pairs with the music so well. It feels that they are inseparable, one unified statement. 

Tanya Tagaq’s spoken word takes the message and imagery to heights we never could have dreamed of. We have looked up to her for years, and it is an honour to have worked with her on this. She is an incredible artist, and we are so humbled to have her be such an integral part to the video, the song, and the message. She is a force! We hope this goes on to make a difference. We hope it comforts some of the victims and families of victims of the Highway of Tears. Remember that the Highway of Tears is only a symptom of a much larger issue. We owe them action! 

We are Crown Lands. We are here to make a difference. I genuinely believe that together we are stronger. We need to stand together and stand up for what is right. There are still such great injustices being done every day in our country, and all over the world. We do not have the answers, but we hope that we can raise some important questions and help move forward. I have great hope that this song and this video is illuminating for people. We so strongly believe in the message that this art carries. I hope that it finds you.

(Photo Credit: Travis Shinn)

After meeting six years ago and bonding over their shared love of music, Cody Bowles (they/them) and Kevin Comeau (he/him) became “instant best friends” and started jamming together in a local barn, switching up instruments, but never straying from a two-piece set-up. Making music that brings together a range of influences from folk and blues to psychedelic to prog rock, and drawing on their own intense personal chemistry, Crown Lands are a startlingly fresh jolt of energy.

The group’s name is indicative of their musical ambitions: “Crown Land” is territorial area belonging to the monarch — or, as Bowles puts it: “Crown Land is stolen land and we are reclaiming it.” Crown Lands are on a mission to represent a sense of empowerment for marginalized communities through their music and the weighty subject matter of their lyrics. “People are going to listen to you, so you may as well say something that matters,” says Comeau.

(Photo Credit: Travis Shin)