It has taken seven years, but Lucas Degerness’ father has finally acknowledged his son’s disappearance.
On Luke’s 21st birthday this January, his father posted a “happy birthday” message on Facebook and added, “Don’t you think it’s time to come home?”
This reluctance to look at Luke’s disappearance as more than a case of “boys-being-boys” or males being capable of taking care of themselves, are two reasons, says Luke’s mother Gina, why missing Aboriginal boys and men do not get the attention they deserve.
“I have found that there isn’t a lot of awareness of our missing men and boys,” said Gina.
Luke disappeared from his Prince George school June 7, 2007 when he was 14 years old. Gina had taken him to school that day to talk to the vice-principal. As Gina was finishing off her discussion, Luke was directed to go back to class. He never arrived.
The day after Luke’s disappearance, Gina contacted the RCMP. Luke was spotted in Prince George a number of times in the first week, but after that, nothing for years. Gina did not remain idle. She contacted organizations that dealt with missing children in Canada, the United States and around the world, and got Luke’s particulars out there.
She used social media extensively. Five years after his disappearance, she received a handful of tips that Luke had been spotted in East Vancouver. She made the trip there, spoke to people and determined that while there was a Luke there, it wasn’t her Luke.
But then in April 2014 MissingKids.ca received a phone call from a young man claiming to be Luke Degerness. MissingKids.ca contacted the RCMP and the RCMP called Gina.
“We’re 95 per cent sure it was him,” said Gina. “It was so random the timing of this … that I really truly believe there is a good chance it was him. I don’t know why after all this time someone would do that as a prank.”
Determining where the phone call came from was impossible. Gina believes her son is somewhere along the west coast.
Degerness’ tale is just one of many heartbreaking stories of missing boys.
Statistics gathered by Six Nations member and Two Row Times journalist Jen Mt. Pleasant paint a startling picture. Using social media, websites such as MissingKids.ca and Albertamissingpersons.ca, and electronically archived newspaper articles, Mt. Pleasant has counted 650 murdered and missing Aboriginal men and boys since the 1950s.
“I’m shocked somebody hasn’t done this kind of research before,” said Mt. Pleasant, who plans to put her information on a database once she is finished.
But as high as the numbers are now, Mt. Pleasant is certain she has missed some men in her count as not every newspaper article noted if the missing or murdered man was Aboriginal.
Mt. Pleasant’s interest was piqued on the subject when, in the third year of her criminology degree from Wilfred Laurier University, she undertook research on Aboriginal women and girls who were involved in the sex trade. In this research, she came across a large number of Aboriginal males.
Missing and murdered Aboriginal males were included this year when Danielle Boudreau organized her ninth annual Memorial March on Feb. 14 in Edmonton.
“A lot of times, over the years, I heard in an offhand sort of way, ‘What about our men?’” said Boudreau.
She was approached by someone who wanted to include murdered and missing Aboriginal men and boys in the march and she decided it was a good idea.
Boudreau says she is not surprised that the alarm has not been sounded on the dangers faced by Aboriginal males.
“Society seems to blame Aboriginal men for everything,” she said.
“There’s not a lot of compassion for Aboriginal boys and men,” said Gina. “There’s getting to be more.”
Boudreau adds that Aboriginal men are starting to stand up and talk about being victims.
In a concrete move to recognize that Aboriginal men and boys have been victims, The Creating Hope Society and Stolen Sisters Awareness Movement joined forces to host its first annual Napekasowiyinaw Walk on Fathers’ Day in Edmonton.
The Warriors Walk recognized both the traditional role of men in society, as well as honoured and commemorated the missing and murdered men and boys.
“I think this is a good first step,” said April Eve Wiberg, with the Stolen Sisters Awareness Movement. “This is definitely an issue that speaks to the larger issue of our missing, murdered Aboriginal people.”
Wiberg believes the Edmonton walk is the first across the country held for missing and murder Aboriginal boys and men.
Gina was one of a handful of family members, as well as advocates and community leaders, to speak at the Fathers’ Day rally.
“I’m glad it’s happening. This is one more way to raise awareness,” said Gina. “For families like myself, it’s one more way we can feel that we’re doing something.”
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