Amber Tuccaro is from Mikisew Cree First Nation, Treaty 8 territory. She was last seen August 18th, 2010. She was 20 years old at the time and a mother to one son. I heard the desperation in her mother Tootsie’s voice when she pleaded with me to ‘run her story one more time.’
I was an intern reporter at the time — before the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women; before the Government of Canada listened to the demands of victims’ families. This was a time when calls for action fell on deaf ears. Even though I knew I should, I couldn’t ‘run her story one more time’ and it haunts me every day. When Amber’s remains were found in 2012, I knew I could never let anyone tell me what story to tell. I made a secret promise to Tootsie to echo her voice as far as I could. Reminding myself that no story should be told in vain.
That same year, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police released a phone call that Amber recorded, the last phone call she ever made, capturing her killer’s voice. “You better not be taking me somewhere I don’t want to go,” she pleaded. This desperate plea sounded familiar to me. It wounded my heart in a way that will never be healed.
Fast forward to October 4th, 2016 when I was helping plan a vigil for the Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women from Treaty 8: Shirley Ann Waquan, Shelly Tanis Dene, Janice Desjarlais, Amber Tuccaro, and Elaine Alook.
Every move I made was calculated and delicate. Each decision was deeply contemplated. I needed to redeem myself to Amber and her family. There was a reason I was asked to be involved with the vigil, a deeper meaning that I hoped would be understood. I reached out to her brother, Paul. I invited him to honour his sister at the Nistawoyou Friendship Centre, surrounded by a community that felt his family's pain. Surrounded by people who wanted justice for Amber. He replied, “what do you want me to say?” But I didn’t have an answer. I got lost in my own thoughts, the same way I did when Tootsie hung up the phone after I told her I would ‘try to run the story one more time.’ I found myself feeling this way more and more, despite my efforts. The only thing I knew was if Amber’s family didn’t feel supported, then we would not be honouring Amber’s memory. “Please come,” I asked. He came and, after reminding everyone why we were gathered there, I handed him the microphone and took my seat to the left of where he stood. I couldn’t help but watch him trying to find his words so that I would know how to do the same.
“I remember a time that my sister was hiding from me,” he said. “Her and her friends … they were hiding not far into the bush. I yelled, ‘Come out! Don’t make me have to come find you because you know I will always find you, Amber.’ It hurts knowing that I can’t find her.”
“What kind of person am I?” I thought, switching between my thoughts and his words. “What kind of person asks someone to talk about something like this?” I couldn’t help but feel like I was only opening a wound that I was trying to mend.
We are having another vigil this year and will have one every year until there is justice. Without justice, we will never have peace. The Alook family will be joining us this year. I invited them after we spent hours trekking through the snow searching for any trace of Elaine outside of a lagoon where she is believed to be. Elaine’s brother said, “We are searching because we have hope that we will find her one day; because without hope, we have nothing to hold on to.”
This year, the local college will be screening the BBC documentary Canada’s Lost Girls at their theatre, supporting families under the umbrella of ‘public awareness.’ I could have never imagined this kind of thing happening in 2010. The hope is that the documentary and gathering will help people empathize with the fact that the greatest challenge is not that people don’t care about Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women, it’s that they don’t know enough about them.
With this, I hope that the invitation to this year’s vigil will be embraced — without feelings of blame or accusation. I hope that, together, we can find justice and bring peace to families and loved ones who need it most.
Later in the evening after last year’s vigil, Paul Tuccaro sent me a message. We would talk more about Amber and why this is happening to Indigenous women across Canada and invited me to a round dance being held in celebration of her life. He told me not to feel the guilt I have been carrying anymore. Since then, I allowed myself to believe that Amber’s passing was out of my control.
Photo: Sisters In Spirit Vigil at the Nistawoyou Friendship Centre, 2016
By Melissa Herman