She has been speaking to various classes at the university and North Peace Secondary, as well as meeting one-on-one with writers. Although she’s here as a writer, she says she ends up talking about her sister during her presentations. “Missing Sarah: a memoir of loss” was published in 2004, while de Vries struggled to process what had happened to her sister.
“I learned a lot and went through a lot trying to figure out what had happened and realizing that the police weren’t taking action, trying to press them to take action.”
Sarah was one of the women identified by DNA found on Pickton’s pig farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C. All of the women identified were sex workers or prostitutes, and de Vries believes the stereotyping and shaming of these women is what caused there to be such a delay before the police and the media took their disappearances seriously.
“A lot of reasons for the interest had nothing to do with people,” she argues. “It had to do with the stuff of horror movies. I felt that part of the reason why my sister was vulnerable to somebody like Robert Pickton, and why all these other women were vulnerable too, was because as a society we don’t see them; we see a set of stereotypes and we don’t really care what comes to them.”
De Vries says Sarah was much more than just a drug addict or sex worker; she was a writer and poet, and Maggie wanted to share some of what Sarah had to say, along with her own journey. That’s what she says she tries to share with the students she speaks to.
“The most important message is that marginalizing people like Sarah, marginalizing members of our society who are drug addicted or selling sex or whatever it is, places them in danger, and that they are fully dimensioned human beings just like the rest of us with the same rights to safety the rest of us have.”
She believes that everyone as an individual has a responsibility to work to bridge that gap, to see our prejudices in ourselves, and not just blame the police or the “system”.
“Yes, Robert Pickton is responsible for my sister’s death, he killed her, but if we as a society had paid more attention, then she wouldn’t have had to die.”
De Vries relates that to writing, by saying writers need to start with themselves when looking for something to write about.
“Go deep with your writing and find what it is within yourself that needs to be told, rather than kind of grasping for stories out there or thinking, ‘hmmm, what’s there a market for?’, she recommends. “I think that most people have the most success with writing and experience the most satisfaction and personal fulfillment with writing if their writing comes from deep inside.”
However, writing from your “core” doesn’t always have to mean a dark and serious book. While “Missing Sarah” and soon to be published “Rabbit Ears” are much more serious and intended for adults, de Vries also writes light hearted books for children. Some of those stories revolve around West Coast animals like bees, black bears, sturgeon and salmon. She will be talking about those books to school aged children tomorrow morning at the Fort St. John Library from 10 to 11 a.m. That event is free and open to the public.
De Vries will finish her campus tour in Quesnel.