Kathy Meyer counts the years in Christmases. Eight have passed since her daughter Angela went missing.
Angela was 22 years old.
“She was a very loving girl,” her mother, Kathy said Tuesday, then quickly corrected herself.
“I don’t like using ‘was.’ She is.”
Kathy, her husband Dean, and their daughter Candice, were the first people in Yellowknife to testify publicly before the the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
On Tuesday, they spoke about their daughter, her experience with mental illness, and the devastation left by her disappearance.
Kathy said the family lives with post-traumatic stress.
“It’s just a big hole in our hearts she’s not here,” she told the commissioners. “It’s really difficult to move on as a family.”
The commissioners heard that Angela was a quiet and affable girl, who never got in trouble and liked makeup and nice clothes.
The first signs of Angela’s illness appeared when she was 15 or 16 years old. She was ultimately diagnosed with Schizophrenia.
Angela’s illness progressed rapidly, said Kathy. She lost friends and wasn’t able to finish high school.
The Meyer family gave voice to what would be a recurring theme at the hearings in Yellowknife: the family was forced to make do with the limited resources available in the North.
“The grassroots people are awesome, and they helped where they could,” said Kathy.
But the help may not have been enough for her daughter.
Angela spent time in the psychiatric unit of Stanton Territorial Hospital, and her father, Dean, said it was “so heartbreaking to go visit her.”
The plan was for Angela to move to Edmonton, because she couldn’t get the support she needed in Yellowknife.
“In NWT, we don’t have any addictions or long-term mental health facilities,” said Dean.
“When a person with mental illness has problem, they put them in the hospital for a while, but they can’t stay there very long.
“The hospital is no fix.”
Dean said Aurora College could offer more social service programs, so that Northerners can train in the territory and stay in the North.
The Government of Northwest Territories threatened to cut funding to Aurora College’s social work program in February 2017. After backlash from students and social workers, the department of Education, Culture and Employment back-peddled somewhat, saying the program would not accept new students until a foundation review of the college is complete.
That review is expected to be finished in March.
In sharing the story of her sister’s murder Wednesday, Jayda Andre noted the challenge of securing professional support in the communities.
Joni Andre was stabbed to death by her husband, Stanley Itsi, in Fort McPherson in 2004.
Jayda told the inquiry that in her community, which has a population of about 800, everyone knows everyone. It can be hard to find someone to talk to who isn’t directly or indirectly involved.
She said the support workers in town were Itsi’s mother and aunt.
“Even though I have nothing against them… I wasn’t going to go talk to them,” said Jayda.
“That would be too weird.”
After Joni’s death, the family was promised professional help, and support for Joni’s two-year-old son Frazer. A woman – Jayda couldn’t recall if she was a doctor – saw the family a couple of times.
Years later, Jayda would take it upon herself to seek out counselling.
“I found out the number and contacted someone in Yellowknife. I came out three times for counselling and then I got pregnant,” she said.
Once her daughter was born, it was too expensive to fly them both down to the city.
The Meyer family spoke about how the Yellowknife community rallied in search of Angela, the winter she went missing.
RCMP, bylaw officers, fireman and civilians took part in search efforts. Dean believes some 250 people joined a search party.
“Our family’s so proud of our community,” he said.
While Dean wouldn’t do any “RCMP bashing,” he did say he wished police had run a DNA test on a coat that was found, that was believed to be Angela’s, and that they had put up a roadblock after she was reported missing.
Eleven families and survivors gave public statements in Yellowknife this week, and 12 testified in private.
Another 30 people shared their stories with statement gatherers, about half of whom were unscheduled walk-ins.
Hearings in Yellowknife wrapped up with a closing ceremony last night at the Chateau Nova Hotel.
The next hearings are set to take place in Rankin Inlet, Feb, 20 through 22.
Dean was skeptical of the Inquiry at first.
“Doesn’t the federal government know what we need up here?” he said.
“The territorial government does know what we need, but we don’t have the funding to do anything.”
Dean came around however, after inquiry events began on Monday afternoon.
Welling up with tears, he told the commissioners: “Now that I’ve been here and talking to you people the last few days, I’m very glad that you’re here, to let the victims say their pieces.”