Police failed us after woman’s 1994 death, Nunavik family says
“To this day, I want to know what happened to my sister,” MMIWG inquiry hears
MONTREAL—The family of the late Alacie Nowyakallak wants an investigation into her death re-opened.
The 34-year-old woman from Inukjuak went missing in Montreal on Oct. 3, 1994. Later that month, her body was found in the St. Lawrence River.
More than 20 years later, the Nowyakallak family knows few details about how she died, family members told the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls hearing in Montreal this week.
Alacie’s younger sister, Sarah Nowyakallak, testified before the inquiry on Wednesday, March 14. She told commissioners that police never communicated with the family about any investigation into Alacie’s disappearance nor provided any details about how the woman might have died.
“To this day, I want to know what happened to my sister. Who saw what?” Nowyakallak said.
“I would like this re-investigated.”
Nowyakallak and her family say it was unlike Alacie to be near the water, because she did not fish or swim.
“So how is it that her body ended up on the water?” Nowyakallak said.
Nowyakallak told the commission that it was difficult for her family in Inukjuak to search for Alacie when she went missing, because of the cost of airfare to Montreal.
Family members did not hear from or know how to contact the police force who would have investigated Alacie’s death.
The Nowyakallaks finally asked a family friend in Montreal to look for the missing woman. It was that same friend who found Alacie’s body in a city morgue and connected officials to a relative who could identify her.
That family friend did more to seek justice for Alacie and her family than any police force did, Nowyakallak said.
From what information she could gather after Alacie’s death, Nowyakallak told commissioners that her sister’s hands were tied behind her back when she was found; her legs were tied as well.
Alacie was identified by the jewellery she wore around her neck; otherwise, her body was unrecognizable after several weeks in the water.
The family says the coroner’s report—which Nowyakallak only saw the first time this week—said there were no signs of violence on Alacie’s body and ruled her death accidental.
The Nowyakallak family has asked to have that report translated from French, as well as for a publication ban.
The experience of losing her sister illustrated to Nowyakallak the disconnect between Quebec’s North and South.
“In Nunavik, if there is a person missing, the whole community will unite to help find them,” Nowyakallak told the commission. “I assumed it was the same in Montreal when someone goes missing.”
“It would have been nice if someone had called our local police or called us directly at home to tell us they’re doing everything they can to look for her,” she said, “so we would be assured.”
Lizzie Calvin, Alacie’s cousin, described the two women’s friendship, which they maintained from the time they were children.
Calvin described Alacie as beautiful, kind and loving; she loved children and wanted to have her own family.
As adults, the two women spent time in Montreal together, Calvin said, often drinking and partying.
“It could have been me,” Calvin told the commission. “We were always together.”
Alacie’s death came as a painful shock and burden to the entire family, Calvin said. The Nowyakallaks had already lost another daughter to poisoning; another had drowned and a son had frozen to death out on the land.
“I want the people who were close to my cousin questioned. Because I don’t think they were ever asked,” Calvin said.
“We need some answers. When it’s unsolved, it’s always there. You don’t forget.”
The mandate of the national inquiry is not to investigate the cases of missing or murdered women, but the commission can bring to light new evidence, if and when it’s presented.
The commission is hosting hearings all week in Montreal. The inquiry designated March 14 and March 15 for testimony from Inuit, who have come from Montreal, Nunavik and Ottawa to take part.
The national inquiry offers support 24 hours a day, and in Inuktitut, at 1-844-413-6649.