Jennifer Catcheway last spoke to her parents on June 19, 2008, the day before her 18th birthday
Don’t block the search for Jennifer Catcheway, a First Nation band councillor from northern Manitoba is urging the chief of a southern reserve.
Heidi Cook, from Misipawistik Cree Nation (formerly Grand Rapids First Nation), issued an open letter on Sunday to Chief David Pashe of Dakota Tipi First Nation, after learning he told Catcheway’s family they’ll need a search warrant to come back to his community.
“First of all I sympathize with the Catcheway family. If I lost a loved one too, I know I’d search forever,” Pashe told CBC News.
“My concern is the Catcheway family is doing all the investigation themselves — they’re not police officers. They’re coming and interrogating the people themselves and that, for me, is not right.”
“I just said the next time, if you come again, come with the RCMP. Let them do the interrogating and the search — even the RCMP has said there’s no reasonable grounds for a search warrant.”
The Catcheway family and several volunteers searched part of Dakota Tipi near Portage la Prairie on Friday, after getting a new tip about the missing woman, whom they last heard from in 2008. The previous day they had searched the Dakota Tipi landfill for possible burial sites.
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“I’ve always had questions about Dakota Tipi, unanswered questions from 2008,” said Wilfred Catcheway, Jennifer’s father. “We always end up coming back to Dakota Tipi.”
Catcheway, who lived in Portage la Prairie with her family, spoke by phone with her parents on June 19, 2008, the day before her 18th birthday. She was supposed to return home the following day, but she hasn’t been heard from since.
RCMP have received tips that Catcheway was last seen at a party on Dakota Tipi, but RCMP say that last phone call was traced to Grand Rapids, six hours north of the family home.
Catcheway’s disappearance has since become an RCMP homicide investigation and investigators believe her body is somewhere between Grand Rapids and Portage la Prairie.
“Somebody has information. Somebody knows,” Bernice Catcheway said during Friday’s search. “Come forward, end this for us.”
Cook said she understands if Pashe is apprehensive about searchers going through his community. Her own reserve has been the focus of searches and it can create distrust in the community.
“People have been painted, because they were, like, at a party, then they must know something, you know?” she said.
“[But] these people probably, just like the rest of us, they want Jennifer to be found.”
To that end, it’s important to allow the searches to happen, she said.
Heidi Cook statement
Misipawistik (Grand Rapids) and surrounding territory have been ground zero in the search for Jennifer Catcheway since she went missing in 2008. People in our community understand better than most the uneasiness and dishonour that goes with being the target of a search, having the distinction as the last place Jennifer was seen alive. I understand Chief Pashe’s fears of having his community known in this light. However, I hope and I pray that Chief Pashe will allow his compassion for the family of Jennifer Catcheway to overcome his fear and that the search will resume.
The people of Misipawistik are not all murderers by association. Every year members of our community welcome Jennifer’s parents, offering support and kindness in whichever way they can. Throughout the year our hunters, fishers, and others who travel our territory remain vigilant in looking for signs of Jennifer. Searching for a missing person is a complex emotional battle; hoping and dreading at the same time that finally, this time, she will be found.
The uncertainty that lingers as long as Jennifer is missing may be more damaging than the search. Rumours and speculation about what could have happened create suspicion between neighbours and allows distrust to infect the community. Finding Jennifer is the most immediate thing that we can do to counter this negativity.
My message to Chief Pashe is to please allow the search to resume, with or without a warrant.
My message to Jennifer’s parents, Wilfred and Bernice, is our hearts and prayers are with you, as always. Bring Jennifer home.
‘Damned if I do and damned if I don’t’
Pashe said he’s torn over the matter of the search because he wants the Catcheway family to find their daughter, but he can’t give them free reign over his community.
“‘I’ll be the first to grab a shovel and dig,” he said. “[But] I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t because half of my
people say [let them dig] and half say don’t.
“I, as leader of the community, am between a rock and a hard place. But at the end run I just gotta protect my people.”
Dakota Tipi “bent over backwards” in 2008 for the original search, Pashe said, noting meals were provided to the searchers, who were also given use of the community hall as well as some money from the band.
Last week’s search was the fourth one on the reserve, he added.
The band and council wholeheartedly said “go ahead” when the Catcheways asked permission last week, Pashe said. But then they showed up with a backhoe, he said.
“I asked them to call electrical, Manitoba Hydro,” Pashe said, adding he was concerned about the lines being dug up.
“They were almost ready to dig up our cemetery here — the big machine was knocking down small growth, and that’s sacred.”