Family members are still searching for answers after the RCMP apologized for not properly investigating an Indigenous woman’s death more than five decades ago.
Tootsie Jimmy-Charlie, a 26-year-old Kaska member of the Liard First Nation and a mother of four, went missing in 1967.
Several weeks after loved ones expected her to return home from Whitehorse, RCMP informed them that her body had been discovered at a dump in the city.
On Friday, Yukon RCMP apologized to friends and relatives of Jimmy-Charlie at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre in Whitehorse for failing to properly investigate her death.
Jimmy-Charlie’s younger sister Anne Maje Raider, who attended the apology, said her family had mixed emotions, including relief and anger that it had taken so long.
Maje Raider said she is hopeful the RCMP’s commitment to change and improve its relationship with Indigenous people means something like this won’t happen again.
“That’s all that we can pray for now — that Indigenous women aren’t treated with racism and the RCMP respond immediately and do the search immediately,” said Maje Raider, who was 16 when her sister died.
Maje Raider said she remembers her sister, who was one of 14 children, as a loving mother.
“She was very compassionate and caring and she adored her children,” she said.
“She was always very slow putting on her makeup. One thing we always joke about was how she loves to put on makeup and take her time.”
Chief Supt. Scott Sheppard, commanding officer for the Yukon RCMP, said it was the police force’s job to complete a thorough investigation “and that was not done”
“Your experience was not up to the standards of our policies and procedures today, and we were not the police service you needed and deserved.”
In a statement ahead of the apology, Jimmy-Charlie’s family said the police investigation into her death was inadequate and the coroner’s report displayed prejudice against Indigenous people.
That report described the discovery of her remains as “uneventful” and determined her death was the result of “misadventure” with alcohol and exposure playing a prominent role. The family is asking that the “racism embedded in the report” be removed.
“To this day, the dump in Whitehorse remains far from everything. Their report makes it sound like she just walked there herself and died on a pile of garbage. No one does that. No one,” Jimmy-Charlie’s daughter, Darlene Jimmy, wrote in the statement.
The RCMP apology comes after several members of Jimmy-Charlie’s family publicly spoke about her death and how it was handled by police during the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in 2017 and 2018.
The RCMP said it reviewed the case after a public complaint in 2019, and determined they had failed to conduct a thorough investigation, to keep the family informed or to advise them of the cause of Jimmy-Charlie’s death.
Police said their investigation remains open and they are asking the public for any information.
In addition to the RCMP apology, Maje Raider said her family wants an apology for the coroner’s report, and from the federal government for policies they believe led to Jimmy-Charlie’s death.
Under the Indian Act at the time, it was illegal for Indigenous people to purchase or consume alcohol and they weren’t allowed to hire legal representation.
Jimmy-Charlie’s family said she was taken to a jail in Whitehorse for either consuming or possessing alcohol.
They said her family expected her to return home by bus when she was released, but she never arrived.