Indigenous

Sweater found during search for Garden Hill teen Tammy Nattaway, missing for 2 years

Tammy Nattaway went missing from Garden Hill First Nation in July 2020. Volunteers searching the nearby community of Wasagamack recently found a sweater believed to belong to her.

Searchers in nearby Wasagamack found item of clothing in June

Tammy Nattaway has been missing since July 2020. (Submitted by Lena Harper)

A sweater believed to belong to Tammy Nattaway was found last month, near the two-year anniversary of the teen's disappearance from her northern Manitoba community.

Nattaway, 16, from Garden Hill First Nation, was last seen there in July 2020. Her family filed a missing persons report, and say they know she would not run away from her fly-in community about 475 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg that has no all-season road access.

Searches have been ongoing in Garden Hill and the nearby community of Wasagamack, where the sweater was found.

"When I see that sweater, I knew it was hers," Tammy's mother Stephanie Harper said.

"Right away I recognized it. I felt it. I knew it was hers. It was one she would wear all the time. I felt kind of at ease when they showed it to me. Kind of a relief. It was a warm feeling. That's how I knew it was hers."

A photo of the sweater found in Wasagamack that is now with police awaiting forensics. (Submitted by Lena Harper)

The sweater has been turned over to police. RCMP said Tammy's disappearance is considered foul play and is an active investigation. 

"The sweater remains as evidence as part of the RCMP investigation," RCMP media relations officer Tara Seel wrote in an email to CBC News. 

"It will be forensically analyzed, which will take some time." 

She said RCMP are not a part of the search in Wasagamack, but do stay "plugged in" to what is occurring on the ground in the community. 

"We continue to receive tips, and all of those are followed up on," Seel wrote.

"Also, we are pursuing several different investigational avenues that we hope will help progress this investigation and find some answers for Tammy's family." 

A camp for searchers has been set up in Wasagamack. (Submitted by Lena Harper)

Search co-ordinator Floyd Mason from Wasagamack said they are working with RCMP and asked where they should be searching.

"The only response that we got from them, [is] that they can't eliminate both communities," Mason said.

"They told us, searchers here in Wasagamack, to continue searching, and same thing with Garden Hill."

They've had divers in the water and they're looking through swamp areas as well. Mason said they appreciate any help people can provide for them to continue searching.

Lena Harper, Tammy's grandmother, thanked volunteers and help from Cat Lake and St. Theresa Point. 

She said Tammy was quiet, honest, and had a sense of humour.

"[She was] respectful, kind. She tried to make people laugh," she said. 

Pictures of Tammy cover a poster board in Wasagamack. (Submitted by Lena Harper)

Stephanie Harper said they celebrated Tammy's 18th birthday on June 5 with a barbecue, and released 18 lanterns into the sky. She said they won't quit looking for her daughter.

"We can't just sit around at home and wait," she said.

"That's why we're here at [the search] camp, because we feel helpless at home. It's very tiring, sometimes frustrating. Sometimes we get our hopes up, but we're not going to give up. We're not going to stop. We just want to find her." 

Anyone who has information about Tammy Nattaway is asked to call Island Lake RCMP at 204-456-2626, Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477 or leave a secure tip online.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Renée Lilley

Reporter, CBC Indigenous

Renée Lilley is a reporter for CBC Indigenous based in Winnipeg. She is a recipient of the CJF-CBC Indigenous Journalism Fellowship for 2022 and is a recent University of Winnipeg grad with a BA in rhetoric and communications. She has reported for radio and online news in her hometown of Portage la Prairie, Man. She is also a proud Métis mama of four girls.

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