Family of Inuk woman wasn’t told of her death because authorities botched her name


The family of Tara Niptanatiak is looking for answers after a spelling mistake by authorities delayed them from finding her.

“I feel like so much time has passed, and I feel like we haven’t gotten anywhere,” Tara’s sister Rolanda told APTN News from her home in Bengough, Sask.

Tara, a mother of four from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, was living in Calgary when her family last heard from her on Feb. 17.

Nunavut family
Tara Niptanatiak in an undated photo. Photo courtesy of the family.

Months later, on April 13, Tara’s Aunt Caroline Robinson who lives in Cambridge Bay, flew to Calgary to file a missing persons’ report.

She told APTN that not hearing from Tara for a long time was not unusual.

In Calgary, Robinson learned why she hadn’t heard from her this time.

“The officers came out and met me and that’s when he told me that Tara – they found her and that she was deceased. I thought he was lying at first,” Robinson said in a phone interview,

“I didn’t want to acknowledge that she was gone.”

On Feb. 25, Calgary Police informed the public that a body was discovered inside a waste container in Calgary’s Ramsay area.

Police said her death was non-criminal but an investigation as to how the body ended up in a waste container is ongoing.

Why the delay in notifying the family?

When speaking with the medical examiner, Robinson learned that the family wasn’t notified of her death because her last name was spelled incorrectly in their records.

“They asked me, ‘how do I spell her last name?’ So, I spelled her last name for them and then the medical examiner said ‘oh, well that’s supposed to be an A, not a G,’” said Robinson.

“The medical examiner said somebody spelled her last name wrong.”

Her name was spelled completely wrong. Authorities spelled it Niptangtuk – rather than Niptanatiak which is the correct spelling.

The family received very little information from the coroner or police. APTN told the family about the mistake in the national database.

An email from Calgary Police said that Tara was found without identification, but later found her name was wrong in the national database that is run by the RCMP.

“The woman remained unidentified until fingerprints obtained during the autopsy were sent to the national database for comparison. The national database came back with a hit for a name that was not in the Calgary Police Service records.

“Neither the national database nor the Calgary database showed any links to next of kin.”

Nunavut family
Tara Niptanatiak’s grave in Calgary – with her name spelled incorrectly. Photo: Tamara Pimentel/APTN.

After an autopsy was completed on March 1, Tara Niptanatiak was buried in a Calgary cemetery alone, with the wrong spelling – Tara Niptangtuk – marking her grave.

According to the office of the Chief Medical Examiner, “If next of kin can’t be notified, the OCME would work with the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee, who would manage with a local funeral home for the burial.”

Robinson said she wants answers about Tara’s death and how her name was documented incorrectly.

“Tara was the kindest person she would help anybody. She didn’t have a mean bone in her body,” she said. “She lived a life of trauma only for it to end in a traumatic way.”

Neither the Calgary Police Service nor the Alberta coroner’s officer would offer anyone up for an interview with APTN.

Bringing Tara home

Nunavut family
Rolanda Niptanatiak sifts through some of Tara’s belongings. Photo: Tamara Pimentel/APTN.

At her home in Bengough, Rolanda flips through notes written by her sister Tara.

When taking possession of Tara’s belongings, Rolanda found that her sister had applied at treatment centers.

She said Tara had struggled with addictions throughout her life but was sober in her final months.

“She was very kind-hearted and very loving, especially towards me,” Rolanda said. “We don’t have the greatest relationship with our mother, so she kind of took on that role from the very beginning and this last month I found out a lot of what happened to Tara in her life, and it makes me really proud of her that she was very loving and kind,”

Rolanda said while scrolling through photos of her sister, “She was very funny and very smart. She was always so shy and outgoing at the same time. A lot of who I am today is because of her.”

Police said they are still reviewing CCTV footage to find out how Tara ended up in a waste container.

Meanwhile, Robinson and Rolanda say their main goal is to have Tara’s body exhumed and brought back to Cambridge Bay, which would cost the family over $10,000.

“It’s been really exhausting, and it’s been a lot of trying to figure everything out and it’s been very confusing,” Rolanda said. “Because it’s May, and she passed away in February and the investigation is still ongoing.”

Video Journalist / Calgary

Tamara is Métis from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She received a diploma in interactive media arts at Assiniboine Community College in Brandon and has worked as a videographer for CBC in Winnipeg and Iqaluit. Tamara was hired by APTN in 2016 as a camera/editor and is now a video journalist in our Calgary bureau.