Yukon RCMP have formally apologized to the family of a young Kaska woman whose body was found near a dump in Whitehorse in 1967.
On Aug. 5, RCMP officials met with family members of Tootsie Jimmy-Charlie at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse where they admitted to conducting an inadequate investigation into her death.
“It was our job to complete a thorough investigation and that was not done,” said Chief Supt. Scott Sheppard, commanding officer of Yukon RCMP. “In so doing, we dishonored the memory of Ms. Jimmy-Charlie and we failed her family.
“On behalf of the RCMP of that time and the RCMP of today, I am so very sorry.”
Jimmy-Charlie’s body was found near the Porter Creek dump in Whitehorse on May 17, 1967. Family members believe the 26-year-old member of the Liard First Nation was murdered.
Her sister, Ann Maje Raider, described Tootsie as a traditional woman who liked to wear makeup and cherished her family.
“Tootsie was a very loving mother and a loving sister, and she cared very much for her husband and family,” Raider said.
A coroner’s inquest report shared with the media from 1967 states the last time Jimmy-Charlie was seen alive was when she was released from jail two months earlier in March.
The report describes Jimmy-Charlie as having a “bad drinking record” and concludes she died from “misadventure” due to exposure and alcohol consumption. It said no foul play was suspected in her death.
Jimmy-Charlie’s daughter, Darlene Jimmy, said “nothing” was done by the RCMP to further investigate her mother’s death.
“Her body was gone from March right ‘till May,” she said. “They just shut it down and didn’t do anything at all.”
Raider, the executive director of the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, said family members shared their story with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), which led a commissioner to write to the Yukon RCMP saying the case needed more attention.
Read the 1967 Coroner’s Report here
During his apology, Sheppard said the RCMP failed to keep family members sufficiently informed of the outcome of the investigation. He noted police did not hold onto Jimmy-Charlie’s file “even though some questions remained outstanding.”
Now, 55 years later, he said the family is finally getting the apology it deserves.
“We simply did not do enough to investigate Ms. Jimmy-Charlie’s death, and support you during this time in your life.”
After the apology, family members were invited to ask questions or share their feelings. Some thanked the RCMP for their apology, while others spoke of pain and trauma.
Read the family’s response to the apology here
“I’m thankful for this apology, but it’s an apology three decades too late from this attempt of genocide from this settler colonial state,” said family member Alex Gobeil.
“The sorrow that my aunties and uncle feel is in my heart, but it’s a rage, as an anger.”
Jimmy-Charlie’s son, Jack Jimmy, questioned why it took the RCMP so long to apologize.
Sheppard said Jimmy-Charlie’s file never received much attention until the MMIWG national inquiry and that requests to further investigate her death were not followed up on.
Jack told APTN News the person or persons responsible for his mother’s death might have been caught if the RCMP thoroughly investigated her case.
“They should have just did their job. That’s all they should have did, do their job.”
Const. John Gillis said the Yukon RCMP’s historical case unit will be reviewing Jimmy-Charlie’s file and plan to appeal to the public for more information.
As it’s unclear how Jimmy-Charlie ended up at the dump, he said it’s important to establish the timeline leading up to the discovery of her body.
“One of the biggest missing pieces of this is that the file was concluded before answering the question how did Miss Jimmy-Charlie get to be where she was found deceased? That’s something that wasn’t answered and we still cannot answer today.”
Gillis further noted Jimmy-Charlie’s death would now be considered suspicious.
Some family members also asked to review a private journal written by the former lead investigator on the case after his retirement. RCMP officials said that person is now a private citizen and has no obligation to share the journal’s contents. However, they noted they had been in touch with the investigator and would try to help the family obtain a copy of the journal’s notes.
Raider said while the RCMP’s apology is the step in the right direction, Jimmy-Charlie’s family is seeking an additional apology from the federal government for the “genocidal policies” that led to her sister’s death, as well as an apology from the Yukon Coroner’s Service.
“(The coroner’s inquest report) defamed her and was not reflective of who she was,” Raider said.
As for Darlene, it will take more than apology to heal the heartbreak of her mother’s death.
“We’re still hurting,” she said. “To my brother and my family, it will never heal. We’ve been hurt for so many years without our mother.”