It’s been eight long years since the disappearance of Tanya Nepinak — each year harder than the last for her family as they wait for answers that may never come.
At a vigil near The Forks’ monument to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, dozens gathered Saturday to sing the Strong Woman song and remember Nepinak.
She was last seen Sept. 13, 2011.
"It gets harder every year because I feel people are forgetting about my niece," said Nepinak's aunt Sue Caribou. "I’m scared people will forget about my niece. We don’t want my niece, our loved one to be forgotten."
She cried as she described the days leading up to Saturday’s ceremony, which were full of prayers for Tanya.
"It’s been an emotional few days, because when I’m preparing the memorial, I talk to my niece," Caribou said. "Every year, it only gets harder. It doesn’t get any easier. My family needs answers."
The family was teased with closure when Shawn Lamb was charged in her death in 2013, following charges against him in three other murders. But the charge was dropped, possibly as the result of Lamb’s plea deal. Nepinak’s body has never been found, despite high-profile searches of the Brady Landfill.
Caribou said she can’t believe Nepinak is dead. Instead, she believes it’s likely she was a victim of human trafficking.
Friends and family came from as far as The Pas and Steinbach to support Caribou.
Nepinak isn’t the only loved one she’s lost — her parents were murdered and she’s lost several other family members to violence.
Without closure, her family struggles to come to grips with the tragedies. Some members turn to drugs and alcohol, she said.
"We need answers, we need closure, and we also need to make awareness of all the missing and murdered," Caribou said. "We have to keep making awareness and not give up on our loved ones," she said.
Kelly Ducharme came to drum for Tanya but also for her sister, Mavis Ducharme, who died after being brutally assaulted in her own home in 2016.
She said it’s no longer painful to sing in her sister’s memory.
"It’s actually healing," Ducharme said. "I did a lot of grieving, and now it’s comforting when I sing."
People passing through Oodena Circle at the Forks stopped to watch the group of women sing and drum, smudging and placing a red dress on the missing and murdered memorial in Nepinak’s honour.
Renee Yetman painted her face in red and black, with a handprint over her face, to represent that Indigenous women will no longer stay silent about the deaths of their sisters.
"It does represent the missing and murdered, and it also has to do with keeping silent about it," she said of the paint.
Tessa Vanderhart is interested in everything, but especially local news, health policy and statistics.
Updated on Saturday, September 14, 2019 at 5:13 PM CDT: Adds photos