First Nations leaders and the parents of two missing members of the Saik’uz First Nation are calling for more resources and action to find the missing young people. Indigenous leaders and family spoke at a press conference in Vanderhoof today to request information and action by government.
“It’s been 24 days since my daughter Chelsea went missing, and we still don’t have any answers,” said a tearful Pam Heron, mother of missing woman Chelsey Quaw (Heron).
“I’m trying as hard as I can. I have to fight just because his boys deserve to know where he’s at,” said Angie Raphael, mother of missing man Jay Raphael.
Chelsey Quaw (Heron) and Jay Preston Raphael are both missing members of the Saik’uz First Nation, located 120 km west of Prince George, just outside Vanderhoof, B.C. and just 14 km south of Highway 16.
Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert is known as the Highway of Tears, due to the high number of missing and murdered women in the area, the majority of whom over the years have been Indigenous.
Community leaders also shed tears as they spoke at a press conference in Vanderhoof, urging for more resources to be brought to the investigation into the two missing young people.
Chief Priscilla Mueller of Saik’uz First Nation thanked all the volunteers who came to participate in the search so far, and said the Saik’uz community had taken the search to Prince George and Vanderhoof as well.
But she said more needs to be done and more resources are needed.
“There is only so much the local RCMP can do,” she said, noting they need help from government.
“I’m not too sure how we’re going to move forward with the search,” she said.
Mary Teegee, executive director of Carrier Sekani Child & Family Service expressed frustration at the lack of action on the 33 recommendations from the 2006 Highway of Tears Symposium Report, which she was also a part of.
“I’m upset that we have to be here again,” she said.
“There are things we need to think about as a society, how much value are we placing on our Indigenous women, our Indigenous men.”
She called for more action from both the government, law enforcement and the media to help draw attention to the ongoing issues surrounding missing and murdered Indigenous women and the Highway of Tears. She also referenced the missing women in Manitoba whose remains are believed to be in a landfill.
“In Canada we’re having to check the landfills for bodies of our missing Indigenous women. Think about that. As a society we have to do better.”
Chelsey Quaw is a 29-year-old Indigenous woman with brown hair, brown eyes who vanished from her community last month.
She stands five feet, 10 inches tall and weighs about 120 pounds. She was possibly wearing blue jeans and a purple winter jacket when she went missing in the early morning hours of Oct. 11, 2023 from a residence on the Saik’uz First Nation.
Several search and rescue teams as well as community groups formed search parties to look for Quaw with no results.
Jay Preston Raphael has been missing from the community just over eight months.
Raphael is a 28-year-old male with black hair and brown eyes, and unique tattoos on his neck, chest and arm.
He is five feet, nine inches tall and weighs approximately 143 pounds.
Raphael was last seen on Feb. 25, 2023 at Saik’uz First Nation wearing a black coat, blue jeans black runners and a baseball hat.
Saik’uz First Nation has an on-reserve population of about 400.
Leaders also frequently referenced other missing women from the area. This included Mackie Basil, missing from Tl’azt’en Nation Nation, since 2013, Bonnie Joseph of Yekooche First Nation, missing from near Vanderhoof since 2008, Ramona Wilson of Gitxan First Nation, who went missing in 1994 and whose remains were found near Smithers in 1995. Her murder remains unsolved. They also mentioned Madison Scott and the ongoing search for justice in her case. Scott had been missing since 2011 and her remains were found earlier this year near Vanderhoof, but no charges have yet been laid as the investigation is ongoing.
Anyone with any information can contact Vanderhoof RCMP at 250-567-2222 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.