At some point every day Lydia Joyce Daniels cries out for her boy Colten Pratt, but as more and more time passes she is starting to fear that no matter how much she calls out, there is little chance her son will ever come home.
“Every day I call out his name, and I don’t ever realize I’m doing it. I’m just like, ‘Colten, Colten,’ as if he’s in the next room,” Daniels said, from her home on the Long Plain First Nation, which sits in the Central Plains region of Manitoba, just outside Portage la Prairie.
Daniels has spent the last seven years not knowing where her son went or what happened to him in the early morning hours of Nov. 7, 2014.
“I entertain the fact he may have just left and he’s living his life some place,” Daniels said. “That is easier to try to take in and comprehend, but I know in my heart, I just know he is no longer here physically.
“That’s not based on evidence, that’s just based on how my heart feels.”
While growing up Daniels said her son was a happy and content child, but one that also dealt with bullying and cruelness because of his sexuality.
“He did have some negative experiences with dealing with people in the high school at Portage la Prairie,” Daniels said. “He was bullied in Portage la Prairie by his peers because he was two-spirited.”
One of the fondest memories Daniels has of her son is the time he spent caring for his sister Jocelyn who lives with a disability, and relied a lot on her brother growing up.
“He was a great brother,” Daniels said. “Lydia has Down syndrome so Colten was really great with her like a caregiver would be. He looked after her, and he really watched over her at school.”
But his mom said that in his teens and early twenties Pratt dealt with addictions because of mental health issues, and because of the way he was treated by some of his peers at school.
Pratt was 26 years old when he made the move from Long Plain First Nation to Winnipeg, as Daniels said for a while he was back and forth between the two communities, and searching for work so he could get his own place in the city.
Pratt was hanging out with a group of friends at the Marlborough Hotel in downtown Winnipeg during the evening of Nov. 6, 2014, but at some point in the early morning hours of Nov. 7 he made his way from the hotel to a bus shelter at the corner of Main Street and Redwood Avenue.
Winnipeg Police have said they have a video that shows Pratt in and around the bus stop on the morning of Nov. 7, sometime between 12:20 a.m. and 1:45 a.m., and that footage is the last known time anyone has seen Pratt alive.
"During this time period it is believed that he had an encounter with at least two individuals at this location. Winnipeg Police are requesting that anyone who recalls seeing activity at this location or has further information regarding these events contacts police," Winnipeg Police said in a 2017 news release.
Daniels said that at this point she is not even sure if investigators are investigating her son’s disappearance as a missing persons case or a homicide, just based on how much time has passed.
“I’ve been told it is an open and active case, but I really can’t tell you if it’s a homicide case or a missing person case, or if there are people from both involved at this point,” she said.
“I just don’t know.”
And while talking about her son’s disappearance is difficult for Daniels and something she said “always opens up old wounds,” she has done what she can to get the word out about her son’s disappearance, in the hopes that one day someone might come forward with information that could finally lead her closer to the answers that would give her some closure.
In 2018, Daniels worked with Winnipeg-based Code Breaker Films, a film company that produces projects “from Indigenous filmmakers creating Indigenous stories” to release My Boy, a documentary film that tells the story of Pratt’s disappearance, and of his mother’s grief and heartbreak.
As she wants people to focus on her son’s disappearance, she also hopes that more people will start to focus on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous men in Canada.
In the last few years, Daniels has worked on an awareness campaign that sees her tie neckties to different locations in Manitoba as a way to spotlight the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous men and boys in Canada.
She has, in the past, left one of those neckties is the same bus shelter where police say they believe her son was on the morning of Nov. 7, 2014.
According to statistics released in 2015, Indigenous men account for approximately 71% of Indigenous homicide victims in Canada, and Daniels said she will continue to work to bring awareness to the issue.
And as Daniels wonders if her son is gone or out there somewhere, she said it gets harder and harder to deal with seeking answers that have never come.
“It’s like I live in suspended grief,” Daniels said. “It’s ongoing and suspended in the sense where I can’t move forward, we don’t have a body, we don’t have closure, we don’t know what happened to Colten.
“We always have hope that he’s going to walk in the door, but holding that hope is what makes this never go away for us.”
That suspended grief is what Daniels has said led her to be diagnosed with depression and PTSD, something she was been fighting to overcome.
“I had to go through extensive therapy, but I have a great therapist that helps me to cope with the hard stuff,” Daniels said.
And as the pandemic has kept Daniels and members of her family at home, she said they have started to come to terms with the fact that her son may never be coming home.
“That’s hard to ever accept, but as much as it hurts that is what I feel in my heart.” Daniels said. “It gave us time to reflect and accept that it’s very likely he isn’t here physically and has gone to the spirit world.”
Pratt is described by police as 5-foot-10, approximately 160 pounds with a thin build, short brown hair and brown eyes. He was last seen wearing a brown plaid jacket and blue jeans.
Anyone with information regarding any missing persons case in Winnipeg can call the Missing Persons Unit at 204-986-6250 or Winnipeg Crime Stoppers at 204-786-8477.
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun