Caitlin Potts and her family have been embraced by the Secwepemc people.
Members of the Splatsin and other Shuswap bands gathered Tuesday to search for Potts, a 27-year-old originally from Alberta, who was reported missing in the Enderby area March 1.
“This is a way to show we care for not only our people, but all people,” said Wayne Christian, Splatsin chief.
Making the trip from Maskwacis, Alta. were Potts’ mother Priscilla and Randy Ermineskin, chief of the Ermineskin Cree Nation.
“It’s really close to home to us,” said Ermineskin of Potts’ disappearance as there are 29 women missing in his community.
“The key to all of this is we need to protect the women. They are the life blood.”
Grand Chief Doug Kelly, with the First Nations Health Council, told the searchers that everyone must commit to bringing an end to violence against women.
“As chiefs and leaders, we are responsible to do that but we are not alone,” he said.
“There are other warriors. They wear badges and uniforms. When the police are not fulfilling their duties, we need to call them on it. I’m hopeful the RCMP will hear us and we will see more action and transparency.”
The search for Potts comes at the same time that the federal government is preparing for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.
“Our women are more prone to go missing than the average Canadian. Why is that?” said Shane Gottfriedson, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
Gottfriedson believes contributing factors are poverty and the generational impact of residential schools.
“It’s up to us in our communities to look at strategies to protect our families and relatives,” he said.
“The RCMP need to take missing persons more seriously. When there is a call out, we need to be considered partners. As First Nations people, we are not going anywhere.”
Potts moved to B.C. in the fall of 2015 and she last contacted her family and friends Feb. 22.
She is described as about five-foot-three and 150-pounds with brown eyes and long black hair with blond streaks.
Anyone with information about Potts or her current whereabouts is asked to call the Vernon/North Okanagan RCMP at 250-545-7171 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
Tuesday’s search included the Enderby-Mabel Lake Road, the Enderby-Grindrod Road and some forestry roads, as well as along the Shuswap River.
“Every day, regardless of the national round tables, our women are going missing. It’s like, stop,” said Charlene Belleau, organizer of the search and chief of the Esk’etemc First Nation, southwest of Williams Lake.
“It doesn’t seem to matter that they are aboriginal women.”
With the Splatsin/Enderby community being relatively small, Belleau is confident information about Potts will come forward.
“Somebody saw something that day. Somebody knows something that can help us,” she said.
Members of the RCMP took part in the search.
“We are here to assist and support the efforts,” said Corp, Dan Moskaluk, RCMP spokesperson.
“We are hopeful it will uncover new information.”
Moskaluk would not provide any details on the investigation.
“We haven’t ruled out the possibility that foul play is involved in Caitlin’s disappearance.”