For friends and family of Tanya Nepinak, the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was a day to reflect on the horrors and the hardships that so many Indigenous people have lived through, but it was also a day to remember and grieve for a woman they love who has now been gone for more than a decade.
“This is the 10th year Tanya has been gone, and we are here today to make sure she is never forgotten,” Sue Caribou said on Thursday.
Caribou was one of a group of about 20 people who took part in a small vigil at The Forks on Thursday evening that was organized to honour and remember Caribou’s niece Tanya Nepinak, a woman who has not been seen since Sept. 13, 2011, when she stepped out of her Winnipeg home and never returned.
On that day 31-year-old Nepinak told her mother she was heading down the street to a pizza restaurant a few blocks away from her home.
Nepinak didn't return that day and has not been seen or heard from since.
Caribou said those who loved Nepinak hold a vigil every year and while they want to make sure the case doesn’t fade from the public eye, they also get together to remember the kind of person that Nepinak was.
“She was always so happy, and she was always smiling and her smile was beautiful,” Caribou said while struggling to hold back tears.
“She was a kind caring person, and she had such a kind heart. It’s sad that someone could do something to someone that was so trusting and so loving.”
Thursday’s vigil was also an opportunity to honour and grieve for the thousands of Indigenous women who have gone missing or been murdered in Canada over many decades and to bring more attention to the ongoing issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
“There are so many missing women out there and it just feels sometimes like they are forgotten,” Caribou said. “So many cases have gone cold or just been forgotten, and it’s so sad.
“We can’t forget about our women.”
Tragically Nepinak is believed to be deceased, as Winnipeg Police have said in the past they believe she was a victim of Winnipeg serial killer Shawn Lamb.
In 2012 Lamb was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Nepinak, as well as the deaths of 18-year-old Carolyn Sinclair, and 25-year old Lorna Blacksmith.
But while Lamb was convicted of manslaughter in the deaths of both Sinclair and Blacksmith and is currently serving a 20-year sentence, charges against him in the case of Nepinak’s death were stayed.
And while police have said publicly they believe Nepinak is gone, her body has never been recovered, and Caribou said that because of that there has never been an opportunity for her family and friends to properly pay their final respects to her.
She said if she does never see her niece alive again, she at least wants to find out what really happened to her, so the family can finally find some sense of closure.
“It’s hard because in my heart I think she’s no longer with us, but until we know for sure you still wonder if she’s out there,” Caribou said.
“I live on Main Street and I look out the window every single day thinking I’m going to see her walking up one day, so it’s very hard.
“We desperately need that closure.”
— 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