Family members, volunteers and the RCMP trekked through powdery snow near a lagoon south of Fort McMurray Friday, searching for a woman who went missing more than 13 years ago.
Elaine Alook, who lived in Fort McMurray, went missing in May 2004. The family of the mother of four said they wanted to take the search into their own hands, after receiving a tip about the area.
"We simply decided we should be doing a little more than expecting the RCMP to carry the burden," Wilbert Alook, Elaine's brother, said.
Elaine and her family moved to Fort McMurray in 1977 from the Bigstone Cree First Nation.
Elaine, who was 35 when she disappeared, is one of several missing Indigenous women from Fort McMurray and the surrounding Wood Buffalo area.
Local advocacy group No More Stolen Sisters Treaty 8 - Sisters in Spirit Wood Buffalo lists Shirley Waquan, Shelly Tannis Dene, Amber Tuccaro and Janice 'Jazzy' Desjarlais as women from the region whose whereabouts have not been solved.
The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women will make its only stop in Alberta during the week of Nov. 6 for a series of community hearings in Edmonton.
'It breaks my heart'
The area the family is searching is near Fort McMurray #468 First Nation, about 50 kilometres south of downtown Fort McMurray.
The family is joined in their search by two RCMP officers, Fort McMurray Search and Rescue and two Alberta conservation officers.
"It breaks my heart they took someone away from us who meant so much to us," Louise Fidler, Alook's sister, said.
Fidler wouldn't elaborate but said the family has received a tip saying they should be searching in the area. The Alook family also said that their prayers brought them to this place.
Alook's niece said she hopes the search brings exposure to all missing and murdered Indigenous people.
"It's for all the murdered and missing women and men in Canada," Laura-Lee Alook said. "I feel like we need to raise awareness."
The ground search ends Sunday but teams hope to search the same place again in the spring when the snow melts.