Tracing the story of missing Delores Whiteman of Saskatchewan
A daughter's journey searching for a missing and murdered indigenous woman
Lori Whiteman says she's at peace these days.
"In the last few years I've really reconciled it," Lori said. "That I just leave it to a higher power. That at some point, I'll get answers and I'll be prepared for whatever the answers are."
For years, Lori searched for her mother, Delores Marie Whiteman.
Lori is not even exactly sure when her Delores went missing. In fact, it took years to get her case on the books.
"I started actively searching for her in the '80s, mid-'80s," Lori said. "It took me until 1995 to get her reported. And the only way I was able to do that was to have my chief intervene on my behalf and talk to the police and have the file made."
While Lori doesn't know many of the details surrounding her mother's eventual disappearance, she does know some of her story.
That story has prompted Lori to become an advocate and leader — not in any elected or formal way — but as one of many women who became trailblazers in Saskatchewan and Canada when they started to realize exactly how big the problem of unsolved cases really was.
Delores Marie Whiteman
Delores was born in May, 1946 and was a member of the Standing Buffalo First Nation. Like many aboriginal women who are missing or murdered, Delores found herself vulnerable.
When Delores was a baby, her mother died and she bounced around from relative to relative. Eventually she ended up in the Lebret Indian Residential School.
Delores remained in residential school until she was about 17. However, without any immediate family, Delores didn't have a home to go back to. Once again she bounced from relative to relative, until she finally left for the city of Regina.
It was there, in 1963, that she gave birth to her daughter Lori. For a short time, the pair lived in an apartment on 12th Avenue across from the old Hudson's Bay store. But like so many aboriginal children in the 1960s, Lori was apprehended and put into care.
Searching for Delores
Lori began searching for her mother in the mid-1980s. Having reconnected with family on Standing Buffalo First Nation and other friends of her mothers, Lori began pulling at threads of her mother's story, trying to figure out where she might be.
Some family received visits from Delores, during which she would indicate where she was headed next. The destinations she mentioned included Saskatoon, Edmonton, Vancouver, Seattle and California.
Lori is fairly certain that her mother followed a cousin from Standing Buffalo to Vancouver. That woman was working in the sex trade and was murdered by her pimp. Lori, however, does not have definitive proof her mother was also working in the sex trade.
When the Robert Pickton serial killer case broke, Lori provided a DNA sample to the Vancouver police, but she was told they did not find her mother's DNA on Pickton's pig farm.
"There's just puzzles," Lori explains. "She had two other children in Saskatoon after me. So she's known to be there. Both of them are deceased, they were young when they passed away."
Knowing that her mother could have been in Vancouver, Lori posted the only picture she had of her on a bulletin board about missing women in that city. That's when she received one of the most substantial leads she's had in a long time.
"This lady got ahold of me," Lori said. "I've met her since then. I went out to Vancouver and met her and she took me through the downtown eastside to different places and she said, 'I'm virtually 100 per cent certain that your mom and I worked out of the same hotel. I remember her really well.'"
The woman told Lori that Delores and a handful of other women had an agreement with a hotel owner. In exchange for purchasing items from the hotel and not causing any trouble, they could work out of the hotel. The woman recalled that Delores had children.
Still, Lori does not have a way of proving the woman's story.
The Case today
A few years ago, RCMP and Regina police sat down with Lori to ask about her mother. They asked a lot of questions, took a new DNA samples and went through the information they had found. They also informed Lori about those two siblings who passed away in Saskatoon.
In 1995, a woman claiming to be Delores gave a statement to police in Edmonton. The records have since been purged, so the details of the statement are gone. Lori also has her doubts that person was actually her mother.
Not long after that, Lori received a phone call from police who said they had done all they could and that her mother's case was being turned back over to Project Care in Edmonton.
Like many family members left behind and searching, Lori became part of a burgeoning network in the 1990s and 2000s.
Around that time, Amber Redman's mother Gwenda Yuzicappi, Dahleen Bosse's mother Pauline Muskego and others were searching for their missing daughters.
By 2005, it was clear that these young women were part of a bigger trend. Lori said when she first started to get together with these families, some from across the country, they realized what had started as a very personal story involving their own families, was actually a much bigger problem starting to surface across the country.
It also gave her courage.
"I was really thankful," Lori explained. "But it was a little bit overwhelming because like I said I really hadn't talked to anybody. Because at the time I thought, 'I don't know who I would talk to about this, who would care, who would listen.'"
Turns out, there were a lot of people who wanted to listen, and those early groups led to the creation of much bigger organizations including Sisters in Spirit.
A new generation of women have taken up those groups. Lori is proud of those women and happy to see them pushing to keep this issue alive.
That gives Lori hope that others will not have to go through the same challenges she has — and that no more aboriginal women will just vanish without a trace.
If you know anything about this case or any of the others listed on CBC Saskatchewan, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.