Ross River Dena declares state of emergency over missing woman

Ramona Peter was last seen in Ross River on April 21.

The disappearance of a missing Ross River woman has prompted her First Nation to declare a state of emergency.

Ramona Peter, 40, was last seen at a store in the community of Ross River, Yukon, on April 21. She was reported missing one week later on April 28.

The Ross River Dena Council (RRDC) passed a band council resolution regarding the declaration on May 12.

In addition to Peter’s disappearance, the First Nation said in a press release two other issues led to the declaration: a surge of drug trafficking and bootlegging and a black bear wandering through the community.

Chief Dylan Loblaw said in a press release the combined impact of all three issues “are serious and life-threatening.”

“Ross River is struggling to cope,” he said.

Search efforts have been ongoing in Peter’s disappearance by Yukon RCMP and the First Nation.

In a May 15 release, Yukon RCMP said its investigation into Peter’s disappearance is ongoing.

The search for Peter’s has expanded into other communities such as Whitehorse and Watson Lake. RCMP and Yukon Search and Rescue (YSAR) are continuing air and water searches near Ross River this week.

“The search for Ramona Peter is imperative,” Loblaw said. “We will not stop looking for her. We will not give up on her.”

Loblaw said RRDC “desperately” needs help from Yukon government to help those efforts.

“We call on Yukon premier Ranji Pillai to provide immediate assistance as we continue to search for our beloved sister, including human and financial resources.”

A Yukon government spokesperson said in an email statement that Pillai was taking the declaration “seriously.”

According to the statement, Pillai spoke with Chief Loblaw this past weekend to reiterate the government’s support for RRDC “and ensure that communications channels are open and that the community is receiving the supports they need during this challenging time.”

Pillai will be travelling to Ross River next week to meet with RRDC, a plan that was made prior to the declaration.

“Premier Pillai has also offered to assist with any coordination with the federal government that is needed, given RRDC’s unique relationship with the Government of Canada,” the statement reads.

That includes supporting the search for Peter by providing resources, like the use of RCMP aircraft and watercraft and financial and logistical support to family members to assist with travel to Whitehorse to raise awareness of the case.

A missing persons poster for Ramona Peter. Peter was declared missing on April 28.

Bootlegging and Wildlife

The RRDC release goes on to note that drug dealers and bootleggers are causing additional problems.

“Our community is besieged by drug dealers and bootleggers who creep into our town under cover of night, preying on vulnerable people,” it states.

“We will not allow this predatory behavior to continue. We have a clear message for those individuals who are destroying the lives of our people: Ross River is not open for business. Stay out.”

The release states Ross River Dena Council will “take all steps necessary” to prevent people entering the community to sell drugs and alcohol, though it does not go into specifics.

Last fall APTN News reported on how the community was grappling with a substance use and mental health crisis.

Loblaw said at the time he felt there was a lack of urgency by the territorial and federal governments to address the issue and that RRDC was being “pushed aside.”

Chief Dylan Loblaw of the Ross River Dena Council. The First Nation declared a state of emergency on May 12. Photo: Jordan Haslbeck

Meanwhile, Yukon government said it’s committed to working with communities to address the issue, noting its most recent budget contains “significant funding” for supports like access to safe supply and substance use services.

More recently, the RRDC release notes a black bear has been wandering through the community, putting citizens at risk.

While a Yukon government conservation officer from the nearby community of Faro set up a trap earlier this month, the bear has not been captured.

“Yukon government has a legal obligation to trap and relocate this bear,” Loblaw said.

“It’s an obvious risk to the safety of people in Ross River, particularly our children and elders. We need the Yukon government to take this seriously and do their job.”

Yukon government said its working to find a fulltime conservation officer for the community. Officers in neighboring communities have been working in Ross River and have put traps in places where the bear has been spotted.

Loblaw said the three issues combined are “hugely difficult” for the First Nation.

“We are a very small First Nation with limited resources. We beseech the Yukon and federal governments to help us. We can not do this alone.”

Anyone who might have information about the whereabouts of Ramona Peter is encouraged to contact Ross River RCMP at 867-969-2677 or 867-969-5555

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