By Chris Marchand
Friends, family and those involved in the search for Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation’s resident Emily Brown rallied around a landmark that had sprung up in the wake of her disappearance.
Brown was reported missing on March 18. After an intensive local search involving over 40 volunteers and members of the Fort Frances chapter of the Bear Clan Patrol, Emily’s body was discovered March 25 in a wooded area near Dryden. Family and friends laid her to rest, Apr. 6.
After the funeral, a few gathered to take stock of the sad chapter in our local history at Lang’s Motel in Wabigoon, where Peggy Lang had several weeks before, hung a red dress in concern and solidarity for the missing woman, her family and the larger issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.
Speaking on behalf of Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation, Donna Chief says The Dryden Police Service, Treaty 3 Police and the Ontario Provincial Police worked seamlessly, as did volunteers from Wabigoon Lake and Eagle Lake First Nations during the search. She also offers thanks for Paawidigong First Nations Forum for opening up their office space to act as a headquarters for the Bear Clan Patrol and the many kind gestures offered by citizens.
Chief adds the Fort Frances Bear Clan Patrol members hit the ground running and were a very positive force throughout the search.
“When we had the initial search in Dryden, it was just community members and we were afraid to come upon her — they really encouraged us to keep going. They broke up their squad and they had one of their team with us the whole time. They had a protocol already established.”
Fort Frances Bear Clan Patrol’s James Eastman said the outcome was not one they had hoped for, but he’s glad that Emily was found and that the family and the community can begin the healing process.
“To alleviate those situations, it takes people to get out there and do it,” said the Fort Frances Bear Clan Patrol’s James Eastman. “People need to set their differences aside and ask themselves ‘what if this were one of my family members missing?’. We’re human, and our true goal in life is to look out for one another. It’s fortunate that when we did come up here, there was such an overwhelming response. A lot of extra helpers besides our crew helped us cover a lot more ground.”
Shortly after Emily’s disappearance Lang says she came across Manitoba Métis artist Jaime Black’s REDress project online and found it a poignant symbol to represent missing and murdered Indigenous women. She hung one up in the yard.
“We’re right on the Trans-Canada highway here,” said Lang. “This is to create awareness and to get people to start asking questions. It’s extremely important.”
While the red dress practice has been slow to catch on in the Northwest, Chief says the events of the past few weeks have made the symbol more meaningful.
“You see the red dresses and you think, ‘that’s a nice gesture’, but it doesn’t really have the impact you think it should until you’re looking for a family member or a community member, you’re looking on behalf of a mother who is hurting, or brothers who are devastated. We were fortunate to find her so we could bring her home. The grieving and the healing can start for the family now.”