Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Comfort for the grieving families

Missing women's kin served dinner

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For Gail Nepinak, this holiday season marks the first Christmas since it was discovered her sister, Tanya Nepinak, had been slain.

Nepinak, 31, was last seen in September 2011. In June, Shaun Lamb was charged in Nepinak's death and the deaths of two other women who had gone missing.

Tanya loved the holiday season, Gail Nepinak said, and would do whatever she could to make sure it was a special time for her children.

"She didn't have a lots of money, but anything that she could give her children, she'd try and get for them. She was a good person. The most hard thing right now is the holidays without her."

Nepinak was at a traditional turkey dinner organized by the provincial government Saturday afternoon at the Clarion Hotel, complete with gifts and a visit from Santa Claus, to help bring some comfort to the families of missing and murdered women in Manitoba.

The event was organized by the Department of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs. The families of 10 women either missing or murdered were in attendance.

Spending another Christmas without her sister has been incredibly difficult, but having an event where she can share with other families who are missing loved ones was very helpful, Nepinak said.

"It's so refreshing," Nepinak said. "It helps me cope with the stress that I feel. It helps me with all the stories that they have. I feel like I'm not the only one that's going through this, and they can understand how I'm feeling, what our family's going through and stuff like that."

This is the third year the Department of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs has organized a Christmas event to bring together the families of those missing their loved ones during the holiday season, said Eric Robinson, minister of aboriginal and northern affairs

"Every year we've been trying to do something because this is such a tough time for these families, and for some of them there's been a few Christmases without their loved ones, and for some of them it hasn't been that long. What we're trying to do is bring a little comfort and be helpful in whatever way we can."

Bernadette Smith, the sister of Claudette Osbourne, said she felt it was important to come to show support for other families dealing with the loss of a loved one.

Osbourne has been missing since July 2008.

"It's important for families to get together at this time," Smith said. "Christmas is hard for a lot of the families to be without their loved ones, so it's important to support one another.

"She loved Christmas, she loved decorating and sharing food with people, giving gifts, being with the kids. She was big kid herself.

"I think it's a difficult time for her kids, because they don't have their mom with them. We don't have answers for them, because she's still missing."

Leslie Spillett, executive director of Ka Ni Kanichihk, which has been working to raise awareness about missing and murdered women in Manitoba for more than a decade, said she thought it was important to give these families an opportunity to celebrate the holiday season after experiencing such incredible tragedy.

"These people are connected now because of a tragedy, but they can also be connected because we're still family and we're still here. That to me, is what this is about," Spillet said.

"It's really important to bring people together like this, especially at these times, because I believe the people that have gone on want us to still have joy, even though there's lots of pain."

sarah.petz@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 23, 2012 A4

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