Lisa Marie Young’s grandmother describes the 21 year old, who went missing on June 30, 2002, as a beautiful young woman who came from a loving family.
Young, who was last heard of leaving a party in Nanaimo, is one of more than 1,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) in Canada.
With no arrests made in connection with Young’s disappearance, her family, who live in Tofino, are still seeking closure.
“My family have a really hard time in letting go of an unresolved case that we have with Lisa,” said Young’s grandfather, Moses Martin. “We still don’t know what’s happened to her. We also know we can’t move ahead, move forward without closure.”
It’s been an emotionally draining couple of days for Young’s family and 28 other Nuu-chah-nulth families participating in a three-day gathering for families of MMIWG in Port Alberni.
The gathering, hosted by the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, came after Nuu-chah-nulth families requested a ceremony be held on their land.
Families had the opportunity to speak publicly or privately about their loved ones who are missing or murdered, take part in healing ceremonies and tell their stories to legal and health teams with the National Inquiry into MMIWG.
Young’s grandmother, Cecilia Arnet, said the ceremony was helpful, but nothing will take the pain away from losing her granddaughter.
“[The gathering] helps a little but I’m still hurting, I’ll never stop hurting. I don’t care what anybody says, I’ll never stop crying,” Arnet said. “I’m at home alone and I think and I think and I imagine all kinds of things and wished she’d come back but she’s not. I know she’s gone but I just want closure to find her remains. Somebody must know something.”
In 2016, the government of Canada launched an independent National Inquiry into MMIWG in response to calls for action from Indigenous families.
During the gathering, families were able to make recommendations that would be brought back to National Inquiry commissioners.
Young’s grandfather said his family recommended that RCMP officers should have special training on murdered and missing Indigenous women, better access to information on cases and that the penalty system is too lenient.
“We don’t think that the penalty system is dealing with the issues,” Martin said. “People get away with murder.”
Young’s mother, Jo-anne Young, passed away at Nanaimo Regional Hospital in June, but her family believes she would be happy to know they came together to spread the word about her beloved daughter.
Martha Stewart, Young’s aunt, said the gathering brought the family closer.
“I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all learned something about each other as family members,” Stewart said. “[The gathering] opens a door a little bit to understand what it is we’re going through and to be able to pull together to support one another.”
Although forming a national inquiry into MMIWG is a step in the right direction, Young’s uncle, Richard Martin, believes the overall treatment of First nations from the government is “appalling to this day.”
“[The government] can’t just keep throwing money at studies. Do something,” Richard said. “I don’t want to see my daughter, I don’t want to see my unborn grandchildren go through what we as a family have gone through.”
Young’s family won’t stop looking for her until they find answers.
Gatherings like the one in Port Alberni are a new model, that Penny Kerrigan, community liaison member for the B.C. region with the National Inquiry into MMIWG, believes other communities could easily adapt to.
“[Families] are doing this on their terms, their own space…the Nuu-chah-nulth are a very strong and powerful culture,” Kerrigan said. “We’ve been invited in to do statement taking. We have our legal and health team…who are conducting the statements. The families are telling their story and that story will be given to the commissioners to review.”
Kerrigan added that through witnessing the ceremony and hearing from families, recommendations will be provided to inquiry commissioners.
“Some of the families have never gone through their healing, they’ve left it buried inside and never talked about it,” she said. “This has given them the opportunity to grieve and move forward.”