Brenda Wilson tries hard not to think about the milestones her sister has missed over 24 years following her death.
“Birthdays, weddings — her graduation. She will never experience those things because she was taken from us,” Wilson told the audience at a gathering in Enderby Monday morning.
Murdered and Missing Women (MMIW) Drone Search Team president, Jody Leon said stories like Wilson’s highlight the need to keep the five women who have gone missing from the North Okanagan over the last two years at the forefront of people’s minds, and in the media.
Caitlin Potts, 27; Ashley Simpson, 32; Deanna Wertz, 46; Nicole Bell, 31 and Traci Genereaux, 18 were reported missing between March 2016 and September 2017 — human remains found at a Silver Creek property between Vernon and Salmon Arm in November 2017 were later confirmed to be those of Genereaux.
The event, hosted by Splatsin First Nation, included caseworkers, advocates, members of the MMIW Drone Search Team,volunteers, elders, drummers and members of local law enforcement.
Ramona Wilson was 16 in 1994 when she disappeared from Smithers, where she and her family had been living.
In April 1995, 10 months after her disappearance, Ramona’s family received the form of closure Wilson said most families of missing women never get.
Her sister’s remains were located in a shallow grave along a treeline by the local airport — just outside of town.
“It wasn’t her body, it was her remains that were found,” Wilson said.
“We were told we had to go down to the police station to identify her and when we walked in there was a table like the one I am standing behind right now, and they had laid out all of her belongings. The thing I will never forget is the smell,” she recalled as her voice began to crack.
“I could smell the earth on her clothing… that will never leave me.”
Ramona’s case — like so many that occurred between Prince Rupert and Prince George — remains unsolved.
The Highway of Tears, as that corridor is now called, has been the site of the disappearance or the discovery of the remains of roughly 30 indigenous women since 1969.
A memorial walk for Ramona is held in June each year in Smithers. This year’s walk takes place June 9.
Freda Ens, who worked supporting families of the missing women through the Robert Pickton case as head of the Police and Native Liaison Society echoed Wilson’s frustration while describing the lengthy process of lobbying for recognition from various levels of government during the trial period.
“It took years for the pattern of disappearances to be recognized,” she said.
While Ens refused to comment on the context of her speech regarding Pickton at Monday’s gathering, which focused primarily on the four women missing from the North Okanagan, she offered advice to the families looking for answers.
“Whatever you do, don’t give up,” she said.