Looking for Auntie Emily: A family's plea for stories, pictures to share at MMIWG hearing
‘She’s not just just a missing Aboriginal woman. She had a life, and we want to honour that life'
Ten years ago, beloved "Auntie Emily" vanished from her rural home on Kawacatoose First Nation land, about 25 kilometres north of Quinton, Sask.
Today, her family is still looking for answers on her sudden disappearance — but is also looking for friends and strangers to come forward with stories and photos of Emily Osmond during her time in Yukon.
"We want to build her life story," said Hazel Buffalo Robe, a niece of Osmond's who lives in Yukon.
"It would be for [people] to understand the full breadth of her life. She's not just a missing Aboriginal woman. She had a life, and we want to honour that life."
Osmond moved to the territory in the 1960s because her then-husband Gerry Osmond was posted there with the military. She left some time in the late 1970s after splitting with her husband, says Buffalo Robe.
Buffalo Robe and other family members are planning to take their collection of stories about Osmond's life, and a photo montage, to the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls national inquiry hearings in Saskatoon on Nov. 20.
"I want to be able to highlight her life as opposed to focussing on the trauma, and the heartache that she's disappeared," said Buffalo Robe.
'No new leads'
Osmond was 78 years old when she was last seen by a man who helped her chop wood, on Sept. 9, 2007.
On a calendar where she used to keep track of her medication, the days were marked off until Sept. 13, 2007.
Her family reported her missing a week later.
Myrna LaPlante says she remembers the "alarming" call she got at work on Sept. 20 of that year.
"My sisters phoned me and said, 'Auntie Emily is missing,' and I said, 'what do you mean [she's] missing?'" recalled LaPlante.
LaPlante said she left work that day, and helped search for her aunt for a week straight.
A week turned into a decade, with no sign of Osmond.
"We've been on this journey for the last 10 years," said LaPlante. "What do we know, to date? She's not there. She has not been found. There has been no new leads."
Back in 2009, Saskatchewan RCMP Sgt. James Morton told CBC News that Osmond's case was "really strange," noting that nothing seemed to be missing from her home, and there seemed to be no indication of foul play.
"It's really difficult to understand what might have happened to her. Emily just disappeared," said Morton at the time.
LaPlante said she got a call from the RCMP about a week after the first national inquiry hearings in Whitehorse last May. She said the officer on the phone said Osmond's file was still open, and would remain that way.
"Over 10 years have passed, and she is still considered missing," said Sgt. Chad Clark with the RCMP's historical case unit in Regina, in an email response.
Clark said police are "still seeking" information from when Osmond was last seen or spoken to, and that he hopes this latest news coverage will "yield new information" from the public. He asked anyone with information on Osmond's disappearance to contact the RCMP.
LaPlante said police and family "exhausted as many search options as possible" within the first few years. Then, in 2011, the family's attention turned to her missing nephew — Cody Ridge Wolfe.
"There's been no resolution on either case," said LaPlante.
Finding Emily of Yukon
Lynda Silverfox was one of Osmond's foster children.
Silverfox said the "loving" Osmond raised her nieces, nephews and foster kids "as her own."
"I don't even know how she did it, raising all these kids, working two jobs, keeping her home [clean]," said Silverfox.
Silverfox described her foster mom as a "very smart woman" and a hard worker, who was involved with Yukon's Aboriginal women's council at the time.
Osmond, a chef by trade, was a cook at a number of restaurants during her time in Whitehorse — she owned a few cafés in town, from one inside Qwanlin Mall to another at the top of Two Mile Hill — called "Emily's Country Kitchen," according to her family.
But Osmond also loved being in nature.
"She had a love for animals, particularly cats and dogs, she enjoyed things [going] for drives. We'd collect driftwood and those lava rocks that are down by the Yukon River," Silverfox recalled.
Silverfox is also going to the MMIWG hearings this month to share Osmond's story.
"I would like for her to be remembered for all the gifts and talents and strengths that she had," said Silverfox.
Looking for Yukoners' help
The family is asking Yukoners who may have known Osmond to come forward with stories and photos.
"We want to be able to leave a legacy, where she's remembered as a fully contributing member of the community and not simply as an elder that went missing," said Buffalo Robe, Osmond's niece.
She says the family wants people to know about Osmond's professional life as an Indigenous woman, to counter the stigma attached to missing Indigenous women and girls.
Anyone with stories or photos is asked to contact Hazel Buffalo Robe at 867-334-8250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
With files from Leonard Linklater