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Families find strength to keep going through healing camp
Published Monday, June 17, 2019 7:18PM CST
Last Updated Monday, June 17, 2019 7:19PM CST
It has been nearly five years since Colleen Whitedeer’s brother, 27 year-old, Timothy K.J. Charlette went missing.
“I was there to change his diapers. I was there. I raised him and taught him his ABC’s. He had a normal childhood. As he grew older, he got caught in the cracks,” said Whitedeer.
Charlette was last seen in Prince Albert on October 8, 2014 on the train bridge with his girlfriend, Beatrice Adam. Four days later, Adam’s body was pulled from the North Saskatchewan River and Charlette has never been located and is still missing.
Since Charlette’s disappearance, Whitedeer has been advocating for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Men by walking across the province and raising more awareness. She also gave her testimony in Saskatoon during the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry in 2017.
“I felt I needed to give my mom a voice, to give (my brother) a voice. Just because he got caught in the cracks, doesn’t make him less human. I am a mother of three young sons. I pray I don’t feel my mom’s pain that I saw in her. A lot of the men that are missing are homeless men, men that are caught in the cracks, caught in addictions. They’re still human beings,” said Whitedeer.
For the last five years, Whitedeer has found the strength to keep going through the All Nations Healing Moon Gathering, an annual summer camp for families of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Men, now in its 8th year.
It started in Muskoday First Nation and for the last four years, Ochapowace First Nation hosted it at Camp Mckay beside Round Lake in the Qu’Appelle Valley. The camp provides healing through ceremonies like the sweat lodge, elder counselling, self-care and family strengthening workshops and land based learning.
“I grew up Cree. I’m Dene, I’m from Fond-du-Lac. I’m always telling my kids, ‘Our ancestors were spiritual and sacred people. In order to gain that connection, they need to be connected to the land spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally. The water is our bloodline. Without the land, we won’t exist. It’s important to look after the land and the water. It’s sacred and it’s our way of life. This camp is healing for myself. It’s healing for my family and it’s healing for my young ones.’” after Whitedeer.
The camp also welcomes families of all backgrounds who need support in finding their loved ones and everything is funded strictly by grassroots people.
“We are all family. We have all come here for a collective reason to cope with what we’re going through. To support one another and also keep going and have hope. Hope in each day and to make the best of each day. We are looking for answers, we are looking for relatives and we are doing a lot of praying,” said Sandra Lachance, one of the founders of the camp.
“This is a very important camp for us. We have too many women and children missing and it leaves many of our people wondering. Where? Why? When did they go missing? We hope someday to see them again and that’s why we pray for. We lift our pipes; we have our sweat lodge asking the Creator and the grandfathers and grandmothers to help us and deal with the losses of the many people who come to the camp,” said Ivory Wayne Burns, an elder from the James Smith First Nation.
“We need to start talking about grief so we are not losing people in it. This camp, the elders and the families we met together, we all heal together. We also wanted to share the tools we gained with the rest of the people,” said co-organizer, Heather Acoose.
Regina and Carson Poitras are also part of the camp. Both have been searching for their daughter, 42 year-old, Happy Charles since 2017.
“We’re always go, go go, trying to find her. We never take the time to look after ourselves,” said Carson, Happy’s step-father.
Charles, who is from La Ronge, was last seen in Prince Albert on April 3, 2017 on video surveillance footage just before12am in front of the Prince Albert Collegiate Institute, near Kinsmen Park. Her mother says she was always in contact with the family. Last year, the family said the missing person investigation has since changed to a homicide investigation
“We want someone to come forward and give us some sort of information. We still have tips that come in from all over the province and country and we try to follow up on all those leads. It has been a long, rough road,” said Carson.
The family says the search for Charles could have been done quicker if search services were already in place. The family is now calling to have a search office established in Prince Albert and La Ronge for future families in need.
“That’s our big push. We lobbied both levels of governments. Georgina Jolibois lobbied the federal government on our behalf,” added Carson.
Next year, the camp will move back to Muskdoday First Nation for the next 4 years to help more families in need of healing.