It was a day she never had the chance to enjoy.
And so more than 150 friends and family of Tanya Nepinak gathered at Thunderbird House Sunday for a Mother's Day feast fit for the ever-smiling mother of two and the dozens of other slain and missing aboriginal women who couldn't mark the annual holiday with their children.
"She never had a celebration of her own with her kids, so we wanted to make a good Mother's Day for her," said Gail Nepinak, Tanya's oldest sister.
"I'm glad people show up to remember her like this. I want her to be remembered until she's found."
Nepinak was 31 when she went missing Sept. 13, 2011. Last October, Winnipeg police spent seven days unsuccessfully scouring the Brady Road Landfill for her remains after accused serial killer Shawn Lamb confessed to slaying her along with two other women and discarding their bodies in West End Dumpsters.
Lamb was charged last June with three counts of second-degree murder for the deaths of Nepinak, Lorna Blacksmith, 18, and Carolyn Sinclair, 25.
But the lively, simple poetry of the afternoon helped to overshadow those grisly details, if only for a moment: Children scampered and chased each other while playing dodgeball, Chief Andrew Colomb of Marcel Colomb First Nation and Winston Wuttunee plucked their guitars and mandolins and attendees sat with plates of roast beef, vegetables and meatballs at tables accented with red and white roses.
At a memorial table decorated with pictures of Nepinak, her 16-year-old son, Joseph, paid tribute with a poem he wrote in a handmade card.
"When the first snow touches you, it melts quickly," he wrote.
"When the first leaf touches you, it bends slightly. When the first raindrop touches you, it rolls down your skin. But, when the sun hits you, you shine like jewels."
The feast took place at the same time as the ninth annual Sisters in Spirit march from the St. Regis Hotel to The Forks.
Brenda Osborne, whose daughter Claudette Osborne has been missing since 2008, joined the feast following the march. The events have become a chance to heal and show solidarity with other families, she said.
"It gives me strength," Osborne said. "There's never a day that goes by you don't grieve. I wake up hoping we'll hear news of our loved ones to come home and be with us."
Claudette, herself a mother of four, loved Mother's Day and would have approved of the day's events, Osborne said. The family will celebrate Claudette's 26th birthday on Saturday with a barbecue in Kildonan Park.
"That was her favourite place," Osborne said. "Every day when I think about her, I know she's happy. That's why we continue to celebrate."
Though Nepinak remains missing, her aunt, Sue Caribou, clings to hope she will one day be found.
"She's missing, but she's still alive, that's my hope," Caribou said.
"If they don't show us her body, we're going to continue searching for her. When you love somebody dearly, you'll move the world for them," she said.
Meanwhile, Gail Nepinak says her family will continue to hold events and honour her sister's memory until she's found. "We just want to find her and put her to rest and then it's done."