Candice L’hommecourt is hoping an awareness walk will lead to tips about the disappearance of her older sister. Shelley Tannis Dene was born in Fort McKay, spent years of her life in Fort McMurray, and was living in Edmonton at the time she went missing. Dene was 25 in July 2013 when she told family members and friends she was going to take a trip to the Yukon.
“I kind of just assumed she was okay because she was always okay,” says L’hommecourt . “I didn’t think anything like this would ever happen. She was always so independent and she would always take good care of herself, no matter what type of situation she was in.”
Her suspicions grew after months of calling and texting her sister with no response. One day in November, L’hommecourt woke up with the sudden urge to call her. After she dialed Dene’s number, she found out the phone had been disconnected. L’hommecourt reported her missing to the Edmonton Police Service and did her own investigating by talking with friends and family.
“Everybody kind of had the same story. Like they hadn’t heard from her since July,” she says.
L’hommecourt turned to organizing awareness walks in hopes that more information will be reported to police. The latest event is scheduled for this Saturday in Fort McMurray. Edmonton Police are in contact with the family on a weekly basis, but for the most part L’hommecourt is told that investigators have exhausted all their resources and any leads so far, haven’t helped much with the investigation. Police say they appreciate the families efforts to raise awareness about the missing persons case, because there hasn’t been many tips coming in lately. However, investigators say that often changes frequently.
“There are no updates but we continue to hope that someone will contact police or Crime Stoppers with information that will lead to her being returned to her family safely ,” says EPS Spokesperson Scott Pattison.
Police say they’ve partnered with other detachments because there’s a possibility that Dene could have traveled to a number of places in Northern Alberta before she went missing.
“Protocol becomes more comprehensive as the timeline extends on a missing persons case. Certainly, our partnerships are key to hopefully resolving files,” says Pattison.
Although finding her sister is L’hommecourt top priority, the walks led her to connect with other families who are missing loved ones. She’s also partnered with Project K.A.R.E and No More Stolen Sisters, organizations that seek answers for the many cases. L’hommecourt joins them in pushing for an national inquiry.
“Society only realizes it’s a problem, when it happens to them […] We know there’s 1200 missing and murdered Aboriginal women, I know there’s 650 men and boys that have been missing also. It is a problem and it does need to be addressed. It needs to be seen as an issue to others, not only to Aboriginal people,” she says.
This week, Canada’s premiers met in Charlottetown where they gathered with Aboriginal leaders. During last year’s meeting they supported a inquiry, which was shot down by the federal government. Talk about an inquiry surfaced again this week, but premiers are now pushing for a federal-provincial forum. Rather than just studying the issue, it would support action.
In May, RCMP released the National Operation Review on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal women. It identified 1,181 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canadian police databases. Dating back to 1952, 164 were missing and 1,017 murdered (between 1980 and 2012). It further clarifies that almost 9 out of 10 murders of Aboriginal women are resolved across Canada, which leaves 120 homicide cases and 105 missing cases.
The Shelly Tannis Dene Awareness Walk starts at Borealis Park this Saturday at 1 p.m. Participants will make their way to Keyano College where the event ends at 3 p.m. Anyone with information about Dene’s last whereabouts can call police or Crime Stoppers.