Siblings share 'nightmare' journey at Edmonton MMIWG inquiry
'Us putting ourselves out there is not easy,' say children of Gloria Gladue, missing since 2015
Siblings Nicole Gladue-Weesemat and Keanu Gladue didn't make up their minds to testify about their missing mother until the last minute.
But as the two prepared to speak to commissioners at the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls national inquiry in Edmonton Wednesday, their confidence began to blossom.
The family drew strength from meeting others going through similar pain at the inquiry.
"When you feel alone and come to these you think, 'OK, I'm not alone in this.' I've met so many other families who are still searching and not giving up," said Nicole.
Nicole, 29, travelled from Edson and Keanu, 24, from Wabasca in northern Alberta.
Their mother Gloria Gladue was 44 when she was last seen in the Wabasca area in October 2015. She picked up a prescription on Oct. 9 in Desmarais, Alta., 330 kilometres north of Edmonton. No one has seen or heard from her since.
Ninety minutes before they were due to testify in front of an audience, camera crew and video feed that was being streamed online, the two siblings went over speaking tips Nicole has written down in a notebook since her mother went missing.
Nicole said she didn't sleep the previous night and that it was hard to eat due to nervousness.
"Us putting ourselves out there is not easy," she said.
"We need to do this for our mom, just like everybody else in this hotel waiting to tell their story. It needs to be heard in the hope that something will be done by the government and the police will start working with the families a little better."
Nicole is the oldest of seven children born to Gloria. Raised in foster care since she was two, Nicole began connecting to her mother about 10 years ago.
"She wanted to make up for all the times she had lost with us kids," said Nicole.
The siblings were separated growing up; Nicole was raised in the Slave Lake area and her younger siblings mostly in Wabasca, but they found ways to stay in touch. When she was a teenager, Nicole would "sneak away" from her foster home to Wabasca to visit her siblings.
Since Gloria vanished, Nicole said her siblings now look to her as their rock — they even tell Nicole she sounds like her mother when they call, which they say is a comfort to them.
Nicole also looks like her mother. Photos taped to poster paper surrounded by felt-marked borders and writing show a stunning, dark-haired woman with petite features and a contagious smile. Gloria was funny, easy-going and strong-minded, remembers Nicole.
When the RCMP used a mug shot of Gloria on her missing person advertisements, Nicole took them down and replaced the photos with a regular one of Gloria. She didn't want people to think of her mother as a criminal, but as a person worth finding.
Gloria struggled for years with addictions, said Nicole, and often lived a transient lifestyle, but Nicole said Gloria never gave up working to become the mother that her children prayed for.
No matter the circumstances, the bond between Gloria and her children was always strong, said Nicole.
"We know what her heartbeats [were] like from the inside. We're all being as strong as we can be. From the moment we wake up and go to bed it's about my mom and how we're going to find her. We won't stop."
In desperation and feeling like the RCMP wasn't doing enough to find Gloria, Nicole organized a ground search in June 2016 from the Wabasca to the Athabasca area.
"You want to believe [the RCMP are] good, but some of them are not such good cops and they're supposed to be helping to protect and serve, helping us find those who are missing and they're not."
She and family members went looking in ditches, abandoned houses and even sent "street-smart" family members to look in city crack houses.
"I feel like we've gone to the ends of the Earth trying to find her."
Nicole and Keanu were scheduled to publicly testify to head inquiry commissioner Marion Buller at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
But at the last minute the siblings received an unexpected tip about their mother's disappearance that threw them for a loop.
They were unsure what to do with the tip that appeared valid and backed by two sources. Their first instinct was to share it in the testimony to get the word out and maybe the case would be moved forward.
But, after speaking to a lawyer assigned to them from the inquiry, they decided to hold off. Calls were made to the inquiry office in Ottawa to discuss changing the hearing to an in-camera session for privacy. But Nicole refused — she wanted to share with the world her mother's story. She was tired of being in the shadows and wanted to use any and every opportunity to shine light on the situation.
They were advised by the lawyers not to include the new tip in their public testimony as it may jeopardize the investigation. Nicole said that she and her siblings were also afraid for their safety should they speak publicly about what was told to them.
After a long day of more downs than ups, the two siblings finally sat down with the commissioner and elder supports at 5 p.m. to a mostly empty hearing room, after people had filed out for the day.
Nicole shared how she cherishes the last text conversation she had with her mom before she went missing. Gloria wrote goodnight, and that she loved them all.
She also shared how Gloria was making arrangements to move to Edson to be closer to Nicole and her grandchildren. Nicole said Gloria was looking for a job, and was determined to stay sober.
Keanu, 24, wears sunglasses indoors when he's out in public. He said it's a safety net. He cried quietly behind the comfort of his glasses during his testimony.
A young man of few words, he told the commissioner that he just wanted answers and wants help to find his mother.
Nicole echoed his words, pleading with the commissioner, "I just want my mom back. And that's the only way I will feel better and at peace."
Buller leaned forward and told her, "I feel it in my bones ... that your mother is proud of you, wherever she is."
'In a haze'
Back in their hotel room afterward, the stress of the day's event was evident on their tired faces.
Keanu called the day a nightmare.
Nicole said she wished she would've said more.
"You're over-thinking everything. The moment your time comes, you don't really get to say what you wanted to say. It's hard 'cause the emotions take over. After, you're in a haze."
The search for answers doesn't end here. Nicole is planning another awareness walk for Gloria soon and the family plans to follow up on the tip they received.
"We're going to keep putting her name and face out there. Someone out there knows something. We are not letting this go until she's found," she said.
The siblings embraced and said their goodbyes Wednesday evening, checked out of the Edmonton Inn where the inquiry was held and settled in for the long drive home.