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‘Not just lip service’: First Nations-led private investigators help families of missing

In late November 2023, MMIP Investigations Ltd. got a call from a First Nation in northern Alberta. The nation wanted to conduct a secondary ground search for a member of its community who went missing in June 2023 — they needed help.

Ken Dion, a former emergency services and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist, headed to the nation, 180 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, identified a search area and set out with volunteers. Not long after the team started searching, they located personal belongings and then the missing person, unfortunately deceased.

In Canada, research shows that 13 per cent of missing adults are Indigenous, despite Indigenous people making up only 5 per cent of the population.

Incorporated in February 2023, MMIP Investigations is made up of former police officers, Indigenous private investigators and family advocates.

The organization offers no-cost private investigation services to families of missing and murdered Indigenous people (MMIP). Its work also helps remove some of the barriers that come with navigating the legal system.

Currently, most of their work is self-funded. They’ve received some donations from the municipality of Wabasca-Desmarais, the Building Trades of Alberta, etc., but they’re looking for more funding as there’s immense need across Indigenous communities.

“We started working with a couple of very prestigious retired RCMP officers who were very interested in working with us and very interested in bringing about change,” said Jeddry.

“Our team knows and understands law enforcement, the justice system, victim services and they are incredibly helpful and sensitive to the needs of these families.”

The organization was inspired by grassroots efforts, marches and community-based advocacy. Jeddry, along with co-founder Ward Clapham wanted to see how they could band together as a loss prevention expert and former RCMP superintendent to actively make a difference. So they began recruiting.

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One of the people they recruited was retired RCMP officer, former chief of Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation and MMIP Investigations board chair, Cam Alexis. “We’re here collectively to help our people that are lost, and also to help the families,” he said.

He’s been involved with the organization since May 2023 and believes what sets them apart is their background and cultural lens.

“We too have lost people, loved ones,” he said. “I can attest to that — it doesn’t matter who you are, every one of us are impacted by murdered or missing Indigenous people.”

Currently, MMIP Investigations are actively working on 14 cases. In some instances they’ll pull together K-9 teams or drones or advocate on behalf of the family to get answers from authorities but say their work really depends on what the family wants.

“We’re doing more than just private investigations work,” said Ralph Cardinal, retired RCMP and former Chief of Big Stone Cree Nation. “When we are talking to victims’ families, their eyes light up when we say we can do private investigations, help you go to courts, get reports from the medical examiner’s office or supplement data like toxicology reports, and offer healing support.”

“We always hope that we’re going to be able to bring the person home, unfortunately, that’s not always going to be the case,” added Jeddry. “So we have to be prepared to offer other help and that’s where the healing pillar comes in.

For those who have lost a loved one they ensure mental health, counselling services and grief support are made available. Most recently they’ve begun work in equine therapy.

The people behind MMIP Investigations said they’re not trying to replace the police or impede any investigation. They simply want to help and augment the work when they can.

“We’re engaged with numerous cases and trying to work as closely as possible with the enforcement agencies,” said Cardinal. “We’re listening and actioning things, it’s not just lip service and that’s where we want to go with MMIP Investigations.”

Alexis adds, “we’re not trying to replace the police, we’re not trying to replace their work, we’re trying to augment and work with them, try and help them because we know they’re super busy.”

Jeddry explains it is never the intention of MMIP Investigations to insert themselves into active, ongoing police investigations.

“We are never going to put ourselves in a position where we could potentially damage or put at risk prosecution and arrest,” she said.

An avenue they’d like to explore in collaboration with police is training new recruits.

“When you don a uniform and you get out there, what you learn in [training] is not exactly what you observe [on the streets],” said Alexis. “We have the mechanism to actually teach from a grassroots perspective as opposed to a tabletop exercise.”

The hope is to grow MMIP Investigations to operate across the country, helping Indigenous families in every province and territory — but there’s a lot of work that needs to happen before then.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us to be able to recruit Indigenous private investigators,” Cardinal explained. “There are numerous [Indigenous] retirees out there, I’m really working to expose these former colleagues to what we do.”

They’re also working on training Indigenous family advocates and getting them certified as private investigators so there will be more people available to engage with communities.

MMIP Investigations currently has private investigator licences in Alberta and British Columbia, with charitable status in Alberta, they’re working towards nation-wide charitable status as funding plays a big part in what they can offer.

“Funding helps us move cases forward,” said Alexis. “If people are listening, industry especially, support us.”


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