Linda Kay Peters wants the death of her niece to never be forgotten.
Shawnee Inyallie disappeared in the summer of 2018 from Hope, which sparked months of searches by family that Peters remembers as a very traumatic time for the whole family. Inyallie’s body was found four months later at the Fraser River in Delta – a BC Coroners Service investigation into her death is still open.
Now, Peters is organizing an effort to get First Nations trained in searching for people who go missing from their communities. Her plans have been temporarily put on pause due to the restrictions on gathering, but she has been connecting with local First Nations and the RCMP to establish a First Nations search, rescue and patrol program.
When Inyallie went missing, the family did three searches in small groups along highways, as well as two river searches along the Fraser River. Inyallie’s mother and two aunties went searching in Chilliwack, where Inyallie was known to visit, in tent camps tucked alongside highways and near shacks and RV’s parked along local waterways.
“It was really traumatizing on the family, it was our family doing all the searching,” she said. “(The Chilliwack tent camp search) was us women going in there, we didn’t even have any men coming in there to help protect us. We did it ourselves.”
When people go missing, families cannot just ask professionally trained searchers from search and rescue organizations to come along. These organizations must be tasked out by the relevant authorities – in the case of missing people in Hope it would be the RCMP.
Peters has met with police, as well as search and rescue organizations in Chilliwack, Agassiz and Hope. She has had contact with women leaders in First Nations communities, including Chief of Chawathil Rhoda Peters. Others are also supportive, Peters said, including Grand Chief Doug Kelly, Seabird Island councillor Alexis Grace, and Superintendent Bryon Massie, Officer in Charge of the RCMP’s Upper Fraser Valley Regional Detachment.
“I want this program to come from a grassroots level, I want it to come from the First Nations people, women, especially,” Peters said.
She has also gotten in touch with the Winnipeg-based Bear Clan Patrol, a group of volunteers who provide a presence, connection with and security for Indigenous people who may be vulnerable in the urban areas they live.
“They walk the streets and they try to protect the women and the vulnerable people on the streets,” Peters said. “I want to combine that training with the First Nations search and rescue, and train community members so that when one of our members go missing, we can call on somebody right now. Not a week down the road, or two or three days on, we need to go now.”
Peters wants each First Nations community in Canada to be involved – her vision is to have a coordinator in each community who can train five to 10 volunteers within their community.
“When somebody goes missing, they can call on them. And then they can call on the other communities because they will have a group of people in there. So you can have 50, 60, 100 people come,” Peters said.
The details are still to be worked out about how long a training would look like and who would take part, ideally all First Nations in B.C. for a start Peters said. With the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, meetings which started in December are on pause for the time being. But Peters said she’s ready to get the planning going again this summer.
“I’m doing this in Shawnee’s name because I don’t want her death to be in vain. Something good has got to come out of it,” she said.