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DNA match at last reveals complexity of cold cases

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls spent three days in Yellowknife last month, allowing people who have lost loved ones to express their pain and sorrow.

The sense of loss when a loved one, relative or close friend is killed or goes missing is palpable and life-changing.

Alas, this suffering is far more common in Indigenous communities. Indigenous women and girls are three times more likely to face violence than non-indigenous women and girls, according to Statistics Canada.

Critics have blamed this phenomenon largely on a failure of law enforcement authorities to deal effectively with these cases, and that there is a dysfunctional relationship between Canadian police and Indigenous communities. It is claimed too often police do not take cases involving Indigenous victims seriously.

That sentiment is not lost on the Northwest Territories. Even former senator Nick Sibbeston called the RCMP to task in 2016. He questioned whether police were ignoring a tip he provided to them on a suspect in the murder of Billy Cholo in Fort Simpson.

Four years after being found dead in a public park, Cholo's case remains unsolved.

The RCMP must accept responsibility for allowing this narrative to build. There are enough cases out there to show police capable of demonstrating, if not callousness and disregard, then certainly a lack of understanding of how to conduct good public relations.

A 28-year-old missing person case, however, illustrates how difficult it can be for police to put a case to rest. But more than that, there is resolve within the RCMP ranks to bring these cases to a close.

Last week, RCMP announced DNA analysis of bone fragments found in 2003 yielded a match to Mary Rose Keadjuk who disappeared without a trace on June 28, 1990.

The bone fragments discovered near Con Mine were sent for forensic examination after they were found but there were no matches.

Two more tests and 15 years later – including using a lab overseas – the fragments were matched with Keadjuk.

This case is important for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it does bring a certain sense of closure for Keadjuk's family.

It also shows the RCMP – at least in NWT's "G" Division – continue to work on cases of missing Indigenous women.

To show that government and police take these cases seriously, the GNWT has included $304,000 in its current budget to establish a RCMP historical case unit.

Unresolved cases of missing and murdered people dating back to 1985 could be getting a closer look from a unit comprised of two RCMP officers and one civil servant with the purpose of investigating the 63 cases currently open in the territory.

Justice Minister Louis Sebert said of the proposed unit's mandate: “They are looking at homicides, suspicious deaths, missing persons where foul play is suspected, any missing person where the body has not been located, or when unidentified human remains have been found."

There are dozens of other open cases of missing and killed women in the North, and we would hope they are all being worked on. The proposed new unit will certainly help in both practical and public relations terms.

While Yellowknifer isn't going to argue against claims of police indifference across Canada when it comes to investigating Indigenous missing women cases, at least in Keadjuk's case, work was continuing.

Toward this end, Yellowknifer supports the proposed special unit as it would provide resources to help solve more missing and murdered cases. And then, such as in the tragic case of Mary Rose Keadjuk, determine if her death was a result of foul play or otherwise.