Lorelei Williams

Butterflies In Spirit: Lorelei Williams Dances and Searches for The MMIWG2S

“I just feel like I'm fighting every day and I wish that I wouldn't have to do that. But I feel like I'm gonna keep fighting this fight until I die,” declares advocate Lorelei Williams. She is from ​​Skatin and Sts'ailes First Nations and she lives in Vancouver. Her work focuses on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People, including her dance group which is called Butterflies in Spirit. She started the group to raise awareness of her Aunt Belinda Williams, missing since 1978 and cousin Tanya Holyk, murdered by Robert Pickton. One of her aunts was pushed out a window in the Downtown Eastside and a cousin was raped by a serial killer, both survived thankfully.

Williams works in the Downtown Eastside with women, girls and Two-Spirit people, has worked in Mexico looking for people who have disappeared, supports local families of and looks for the murdered and missing in Canada and speaks at conferences, events, and to the media to inform the public. To provide for her family, Williams has worked for service organizations and the police in the Downtown Eastside. She went back to school to finish her degree but continued her advocacy work unpaid until she was able to receive grant funding. 

The dance group came together when Williams put the idea forward on Facebook, hoping a dance group could help get her missing aunt’s photo out there. What ended up happening was people joined to help her and had missing relatives of their own. As a group, they represent their families and their missing loved ones, raising awareness about this important ongoing social issue. 

“Even starting my dance group I never realized how healing and powerful it really is,” Williams recalls. She wasn’t a dancer at the time, she just wanted to get the word out about her aunt. She was not alone, many of the members of her dance group didn’t know the dances of their people either. Group members went back to their own people to learn, a practice which has had healing impacts. As they prepared for their first performance, Williams’ mother passed away. 

They decided to continue with performing, despite the anxiety Williams was struggling with. Singing the Women’s Warrior Song, she was so moved because that’s what they sang for her mother as she was passing away. She was able to power through and her anxiety stilled throughout the performance. 

Illustration by Shaikara David

As far as her educational path before her work in this area, Williams moved from Vancouver to Chilliwack after her cousin went missing and she was determined not to fail amidst the tragedy. She ended up moving back to Vancouver to graduate and then to Japan for six months to work in a high-end hotel as part of a youth program. She began to learn the language as everyone thought she was Japanese and she wanted to be able to help the guests. 

After she came back from Japan, she got a Tourism Management diploma from Native Education Centre  and continued on towards a bachelors degree in Tourism and Business Management. Her education was interrupted with the death of her brother and when she got pregnant but she was able to bring her baby to her graduation when she received her diploma.  She’s close to finishing her degree with just a few more classes to go. 

Thinking about her hopes for the future, Williams says, Reflecting on the reality of addressing violence against Indigenous women and girls, she knows that without significant policy changes, her work will be needed for a long time.  “I don't want any more missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and Two-Spirit People and I am tired of trying to survive. I feel like I'm always trying to survive,” she laments. As a single mom trying to feed and house her kids, working extra jobs, Williams is tired and frustrated. 

"I don't want any more missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and Two-Spirit People and I am tired of trying to survive."

Working alongside Williams is her boyfriend who is part of the Crazy Indian Brotherhood, an organization that gives back to the community and offers protection to those searching for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. In dangerous situations that Williams has found herself in, the Brotherhood has stepped in and aggressive men have stepped back. They have assisted in searches and lent their support, covering more ground on their bikes and cars while Williams and others search on foot. 

In closing, Williams shares words of inspiration, saying, ”just show up and support any vigils or rallies for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Everybody has their special gifts and if they can offer them, that would be great. Whether you are good at graphic art and web design, or I had people offer me massages which are amazing because I have to do a lot of self-care. I'm definitely grateful for my trauma training, which has helped me but if you can help and support in any way, and of course monetary donations always help us, too - butterfliesinspirit@gmail.com by e-transfer or Paypal.”

Fighting racism, dancing and raising awareness every day, Lorelei Williams is making a difference for the families of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People. While she wishes she didn’t have to keep fighting, she’s determined to keep going to keep people safe and help families find answers. Connecting through culture, searching for the missing and finding funding to do the work, she’s doing what she can with allies and community members.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
    British Columbia
  • Date
    May 1, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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