The Walk To Remember that kicked off on May 31 at the Nee Tahi Buhn First Nation aims to keep awareness high of the case of Perry Jr. Sebastian, who is missing.
The walkers were expected to arrive in Hagwilget on June 5.
The Indigenous man was last seen on Dec. 26, 2011, near Southbank. His case remains active but unsolved.
Twenty-two people joined walk organizer Kim Sebastian on the more than 255 kilometre journey from Nee Tahi Buhn to Hagwilget, near Hazelton. They aim to arrive at Hagwilget by June 7.
Since she posted the event on Facebook in mid-May, Kim told Lakes District News that at least one tip into her cousin Perry’s case had come in, along with a lot of support.
Kim believes Perry met his end after being enticed to the Southside in drug-related circumstances.
“It could be a fight got out of hand or he was murdered. Whatever the predicament, he is gone,” she said.
The purpose of the walk, she said, is “ultimately to bring PJ home.”
“I hope others never feel what I feel. I hope others can take precautionary measure to not go missing as well.”
Officially, Perry’s case hasn’t made any recent progress.
“[The case] is active and ongoing. As with any missing person investigation, it will remain open until such time that the location of the individual is learned. All tips received are investigated. I am not aware of any new details with respect to this matter,” said RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Madonna Saunderson.
For Mavis Goertzen, another relative of Perry, the situation is baffling, but she believes he died in suspicious circumstances.
“I feel that he’s dead because it’s been so long. We still have hope but we’re looking at almost eight years [since he went missing]. My sister-in-law still has hope.”
“When we went searching on the Southside for him we searched for months just trying to find some kind of clues. His auntie lived in Burns Lake at the time, she’s my sister-in-law. I’ve known PJ since he was about 2. She’s pretty sure he got involved with the wrong crowd. We have no proof of course,” she explained.
According to tips Goertzen said she received, before Perry went missing he was involved with a woman from Vancouver. Something happened between them and a group of people they were with on the night of Dec. 26.
“My friend felt they went too far with him or he was being annoying or something like that. And they were drinking when that happened. They somehow disposed of him. My hunch is he’s probably in [Francois] Lake.”
Goertzen said that on the south shore of Francois Lake there is a blue house, and Perry’s body was dumped somewhere near there.
RCMP questioned the woman with whom Perry was involved, but she was cleared and nothing came of it, said Goertzen, who lives in Houston.
She has given the RCMP all of the notes she has written up on her findings, and the RCMP followed up, but there has been no serious progress.
“I don’t feel like they spent enough time on it as far as the investigation goes. It has torn my sister-in-law apart and her family. She hasn’t been able to sleep since he went missing,” Goertzen said.
The Houston resident wasn’t able to join the Walk To Remember but she hopes the journey raises more awareness not only of Perry’s case but those of other Indigenous people who have gone missing in the region.
“I’m hoping that it’ll maybe push the RCMP a little bit more. Because that’s how the family feels – there’s not enough manpower to investigate all these cases.”
“Trying to create more awareness is the biggest thing, so that more people come forward. By showing PJ’s picture on Facebook that’s how I got more tips. I think people being scared to come forward is half the problem. People are worried about their safety,” Goertzen said, though she couldn’t explain why people might feel afraid.
“It took me almost a year to get my friend to go to the RCMP with some tips.”
The Walk to Remember shows the need for more education on safety, Goertzen explained.
“We feel more education and programs need to be set up in every community because so many are becoming targets with the highway of tears. The vulnerable ones are taken. Our native communities have [done] some [work] with harm reduction and self-defence courses and the drug issues are another problem and most don’t carry the naloxone kits with them, which some training is done with the Smithers Friendship Center. A few of us are trained in these areas now and need to educate others.”
The walkers’ arrival in Smithers comes two days after friends and family of Jessica Patrick built a memorial for her in that town, and gathered to talk about her case.
Patrick was a member of the Lake Babine Nation and also from the Burns Lake region, and her body was found on Sept. 11, 2018 at Hudson Bay Mountain Lookout in Smithers.
A criminal investigation into her death is ongoing.