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Tamra Keepness' family speaks together about her disappearance in new documentary

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For the first time since her disappearance, Tamra Keepness’ family is sharing their perspective in a documentary series.

Keepness disappeared from her home in Regina on July 5, 2004. She was five years old.

Her disappearance is the focus of two episodes in the new season of “Never Seen Again” on Paramount+.

“This is the first time the family has gotten together to openly discuss what happened,” said Erica Beaudin, an advocate of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“They get to talk about how it affected them—not myself, not their psychologist, not the police. They get to tell their story.”

“Never Seen Again” is a documentary series that explores the stories of people who disappeared without a trace. The episodes are designed to raise awareness, contribute to ongoing investigations and give family members a platform to tell their story, according to producer and director Anthony Cantor.

“We have a goal to elevate the voices of people all across North America who are suffering from the pain of a missing person and from the pain of not knowing what happened,” Cantor said.

“In this case, it was very important to us that those voices and those people telling those stories represented Indigenous perspectives.”

The two episodes feature interviews with Tamra’s mother Lorena Keepness, as well as her siblings, investigators and people involved in the case since the very beginning.

Cantor said there was a dual focus. It was important to highlight the Keepness family’s journey and address the impacts of colonization, residential schools and generational trauma.

“This is a little girl who went missing in 2004, but the story doesn’t start there. It starts decades, and even centuries, before. But it doesn’t end there. It has ripple effects and ramifications straight through to the present day,” Cantor said.

Days after Tamra’s disappearance, her siblings were taken away from their mother and put into foster care. The entire family never lived together again.

Video footage in the documentary shows the very moment government officials took the children away in a van. Lorena said she was told they were being taken to daycare for the day in an attempt to help her focus on the search for her missing daughter.

Beaudin, who is also featured in the episodes, said it was difficult for the family to watch that play out on screen.

“They were brought right back to that place. Each of them remember that exact moment, walking across the street and into that van,” she said.

“Watching this did not set them back, but they’re using it as a way to move forward”

At the time of Tamra’s disappearance, Beaudin said racial bias, stereotypes and rigid public policy played a large role in portraying the family in a negative light.

“Everything was done in order lay shame, guilt and blame on this situation where no family member has ever been charged or convicted,” she said.

“I think that people will be very shocked as they watch this because they probably had no idea once the case of Tamra Keepness went out of the media, and out of the public eye, that the family had and continues to have long term effects.”

PRODUCTION AND SENSITIVITY

Filming took place the first week in July 2022 to correspond with the 18th anniversary of Tamra’s disappearance and the annual barbecue that is held in her honour.

Cantor said a great degree of sensitivity and responsibility went into production.

“We’re not here to tell a story for the sake of telling a story. We collaborate with families and with law enforcement to try to do some good together,” he said.

“This has to be done right, this has to be done sensitively, this has to be done responsibly and the way to do those things is to listen and to take our lead from the people involved.”

Cantor initially had Beaudin reach out to the family to see if they would be interested. He added they never do episodes without the family’s participation and blessing.

“The entire process was family driven,” Beaudin said, adding the family went through a spiritual journey throughout the production.

The family’s psychologist was present at all the interviews, according to Cantor, and “culturally-specific supports” were always available.

The episodes detail a number of theories on what happened to Tamra inside the house on Ottawa Street, a place that serves as a focal point throughout the story.

“That house was the last place Tamra was seen. It’s also the focal point of so much of the discussion of what happened or what could have happened,” Cantor said.

“That’s why it was important to us to set the record straight. What did the people who lived through it experience? Who was there? Who wasn’t there?”

Beaudin said the episodes were very well done in terms of addressing the impacts racial bias played in the case. She added the show “inspires compassion and empathy.”

The entire production process was difficult for the Keepness family, according to Beaudin, but they are happy they participated.

“The fact they were able to tell their story took incredible courage and bravery,” Beaudin said.

Season three of “Never Seen Again” premiered on Paramount+ in both Canada and the United States on Oct. 11. The Tamra Keepness episodes can be streamed now.

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