'Not going to give up, ever': 11 years after disappearance, Claudette Osborne-Tyo's family looking for answers

Community members gathered with family and friends at Selkirk Avenue and King Street to pay tribute to Claudette Osborne-Tyo, who has been missing since July 25, 2008.

The 21-year-old placed her last call on a payphone at Selkirk Avenue and King Street on July 25, 2008

Bernadette Smith, front left, spoke to a crowd of supporters about her missing sister, under the watchful eye of Brenda Osborne, back left, who is Claudette Osborne-Tyo's mother. (Dana Hatherly/CBC)

Claudette Osborne-Tyo made her last known phone call 11 years ago at a payphone on Selkirk Avenue in Winnipeg's North End.

For the past nine years, her family has gathered at the corner of Selkirk and King Street to honour the missing 21-year-old and mark the last time she was heard from.

A round of drumming, prayers and smudging opened the vigil at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

"Everybody hurts the same. Everybody waits for answers everyday," said her mother, Brenda Osborne. "We're not going to give up, ever."

Trains screeched in the distance as family, friends and community members huddled in front of the Church of the Rock to reflect on Osborne-Tyo's disappearance.

"We want people to know that this is the last known place where she was so that if anybody, you know, remembers something or knows something about what happened to her," said her sister, Bernadette Smith.

Family, friends and community members met at the intersection of Selkirk Avenue and King Street in honour of Claudette Osborne-Tyo, who was last heard from that location 11 years ago. (Dana Hatherly/CBC)

Osborne-Tyo's disappearance is being investigated by Project Devote, a joint task force between the RCMP and the Winnipeg Police Service that focuses on cases involving missing and murdered exploited people.

Smith said her family gets a monthly call or email from investigators. 

"Basically it's the same thing, no new information," she said. "Unfortunately for us, we expect that every month. I wish we could say we foresee something else in terms of the police giving us answers."

Osborne-Tyo was last seen at Winnipeg's Lincoln Motor Hotel, now renamed as the Four Crowns Inn, on McPhillips Street, Smith said. It took two years for police release the location of her last phone call, she said.

After leaving the hotel on a mid-summer night, Osborne-Tyo made numerous calls on pay phones before placing her last call on one that used to be located at the Selkirk Street intersection, about a block away from Main Street.

No one has seen or heard from her since then.

Community members gathered at the place where Claudette Osborne-Tyo made her last known phone call, near the corner of Selkirk Avenue and King Street in Winnipeg. (Dana Hatherly/CBC)

The family is not alone when it comes to searching for answers about how and why their daughter, sister or mother went missing.

She is one of thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across Canada.

After more than 1,000 hours of testimony from survivors and families, Smith, who is a Manitoba MLA, remains critical of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

"The national inquiry has done absolutely nothing for our family," Smith said, adding that they had "no support" and paid their own fare to attend last year's final report announcement.

Smith said she wonders how long it will take to implement the 231 recommendations that came out of the inquiry — if it ever happens. She said the $92 million spent on the inquiry would have been better spent on prevention.

"While the inquiry went on there were still women going missing, there were still women being murdered, and still we have no resources that came out of that," Smith said.

Smith said she believes all levels of government need to do more to protect Indigenous women and girls. Until then, families will continue excavating dumps and scouring the rivers in search of signs of the missing and murdered.

"You can't go on with your life when you have your loved one missing," Smith said.

Smoke from a smudge swirls around members of the Bear Clan in Winnipeg. (Dana Hatherly/CBC)