Drum group helping daughters heal from loss of missing Sask. mom Happy Charles

Happy Charles's daughters say singing and drumming has brought healing to their family as they find their way through the dark spot created by her disappearance more than a year ago.

'When someone is missing ... you don’t know whether to grieve,' says Ariel Charles

Happy Charles's daughters Aleisha Charles, Marcia Bird, her sister-in-law Gina Clinton and daughter Ariel Charles are members of the New Dawn drumming group. (Omayra Issa/Radio-Canada)

Ariel Charles says singing and drumming has brought healing to her family as they find their way through a dark spot left by the loss of a bright light in their lives.

Ariel's mom, Happy Mary Charles, has been missing since April 3, 2017.

"It's hard to know when someone is missing because you don't know whether to grieve or keep trying, you know, to keep working," said 18-year-old Ariel in an interview with CBC/Radio-Canada last week.

"We're still trying to find her."

New Dawn brings healing in hard times

Ariel is part of the New Dawn drumming group comprising of her three sisters Aleisha Charles, Marcia and Margaret Bird, and her aunt Gina Clinton.
Ariel Charles thinks there could be more support in the search for her missing mom, Happy Charles. (CBC/Radio-Canada)

Last week, four members of the group travelled from La Ronge, Sask. to perform at the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Spring Legislative Assembly.

Ariel said singing has helped her through a difficult time, not only from the disappearance of her mother but her family's struggle to keep the search alive. She wishes more resources, like underwater search teams, were being used to look for her mom.

"I've been at my lowest, my very lowest, this past year and I'm finally getting out there again and being with my sisters and singing and it's really helping all of us, going out there and singing," she said.

Missing for more than a year

Happy Charles has been missing for more than a year. She left her home in La Ronge, to go to Prince Albert on April 1.
Charles’s mother Regina Poitras said her daughter, pictured, had a kind and giving spirit. (Submitted by Prince Albert Police)
The babies won't be able to see their grandma and that part is really difficult to process.- Marcia Bird, daughter of Happy Charles

Marcia Bird, Ariel's sister and Happy's daughter, has a vivid memory of the last time she saw her mother when she left La Ronge. Happy told her she was going to go to detox — to keep trying every day for her children and her grandchildren.

"I just remember that day pretty clearly because something felt different and time was going really slow," said Bird.

"I just remember my mom smiling and the sun shining on her face, she had a really bright smile. I just wish I could have done something so she could stay."
Marcia Bird says it's difficult to process the fact that her missing mom Happy Charles isn't around to see her grandchildren grow up. (CBC/Radio-Canada)

Keeping the search alive

Marcia and her sisters have fought hard to keep their mom's story in the spotlight and to push for more search resources.

Her family has launched a Gofundme page to open an office that would provide resources for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

She said it has been difficult for her family to find the support they needed, and that they have felt ignored throughout the process.
A walk from Prince Albert to La Ronge is among the ways Happy Charles's family is making sure her disappearance is not forgotten. (Submitted)

"So people don't have to go through what we had to go through with being all over the place, not knowing what to do and not knowing where to go," she said.

"The office would be so they could get all that just right there, and do it quicker. It took a long time for us to actually get the word out, to take it seriously, and that was really hard on us and stressful for my grandparents."

Determination despite lack of answers

CBC/Radio Canada reached out to the Prince Albert Police Service for an update on the status of the investigation but has not received a response. 

Marcia said the family has limited information about the police investigation into Charles's disappearance, but they are determined not to give up until they find Happy.

"She never asked to be hurt or anything. She's like an angel pretty much," said Happy's daughter Aleisha Charles, who is also a member of New Dawn. 
A moment for Happy Charles during a walk to raise awareness earlier this month. (Submitted)

A group of about 20 people walked from Prince Albert to La Ronge, approximately 240 kilometres, earlier this month to raise awareness about her case and, Marcia said, to "bring her spirit back."

Marcia said one of the hardest parts of missing her mom was knowing that Happy's grandchildren are growing up without her.

'She lit up the room'

"I believe it's hard on them too because the babies won't be able to see their grandma and that part is really difficult to process," said Marcia.

"Our mom was really fun, she was outgoing, she lit up the room she was in, she was amazing. I really hope we find her so we can move on."

FSIN vice-chief Heather Bear said the federation is doing its best to end violence against Indigenous women, although the circumstances of Happy's disappearance remain unknown.

"I'd like to comment on the amazing strength, the amazing courage, of these young ladies," she said. 

"And I want to encourage them to continue on that healing journey, that searching journey — know that you're not alone."