The family of Frank Young have spoken out for the first time since the body of the 5-year-old boy was recovered, 81 days after he disappeared near his home on the Red Earth Cree Nation.
Young’s remains were found under a thicket of deadfall in the Carrot River on Saturday, close to 2 kilometres away from where he was reported missing on April 19.
Young’s grandmother and family spokesperson, Theresa Whitecap, thanked the Indigenous leaders who stood by the family and all who supported the search efforts during a media conference in Prince Albert on Tuesday afternoon.
Whitecap shared stories of Frank’s life while surrounded by family members donning orange “Every Child Matters” shirts; she spoke of his love for Paw Patrol, arts and crafts, playing with his siblings and the Headstart program he attended.
“Frank’s chapter has closed because he has moved on to the Spirit World. The next chapter will begin tomorrow as we prepare his final resting place,” she said. “Everyone of us is very hurt, heartbroken, that we will not see Frank.”
She explained that the family welcomed a new baby during the time of Young’s disappearance, which has helped ease the grief they are all feeling since his recovery.
A wake will be held for Young on July 13, with a funeral to follow in Shoal Lake Cree Nation on Friday.
Also in attendance were both Red Earth Cree Nation Chief Fabian Head and Shoal Lake Cree Nation Chief Marcel Head, RCMP Sgt. Richard Tonge, Prince Albert Grand Council Chief Brian Hardlotte, and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron.
Shoal Lake Chief Marcel Head said they received all sorts of direction from elders and other communities who have gone through similar incidents advising where the search efforts should be focused.
“Frank’s body was found exactly where we were given a description of where he might be,” he said.
“We thank all those who gave advice, admonition from our elders, the knowledge keepers in our communities. We appreciate every effort that was given and the help that was contributed from the local authorities, the RCMP, [and] the searchers.”
Carrot River RCMP Detachment Commander, Sgt. Richard Tonge, said there is no indication of suspicious circumstances surrounding Frank’s death, but the investigation will continue.
“Upon examination at the scene, there was no obvious trauma, Frank’s clothing was intact. Everything we saw was consistent with Frank being in the river for a considerable amount of time.”
Tonge said there has so far been no official cause or manner of death, but since April 19 there has been no evidence they consider suspicious.
An autopsy will be taking place Tuesday in partnership with the Saskatchewan Coroner’s Office.
“We are thankful that he was located, but not with the outcome that we had hoped for,” said Chief Fabian Head of the Red Earth Cree Nation. “Throughout the search, we assured the family of Frank Young that we would not give up nor give up hope.”
Head said the annual thawing and spring run-off of the Carrot River proved to be a challenge for the search and rescue teams on land and on the river. Many times, the searchers were put in dangerous situations while looking for Frank due to the rising water levels.
The communities of Red Earth and Shoal Lake are still continuing to face flooding troubles, suitable land to develop housing is becoming scarce and their hunting lands are under water, according to Head.
“With the water levels being consistently high, it is not safe for children to go near the shore. It is not safe for our hunters, our trappers, to roam around to fish, hunt, and gather for their families.”
Shoal Lake Chief Marcel Head said that with a suggestion from the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Roseanne Archibald, additional donations not being directed to Frank’s funeral services will be used to develop a memorial monument for the young boy.
“When something tragic like this happens, we want to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “Between the two communities, there will be an awareness campaign for the parents to make sure they know how to keep their children safe.”
“… Every child matters, that should resonate in the minds and hearts of every parent,” said Head, while motioning to the orange shirts worn by Young’s family. “You don’t have to be Indigenous. We live in a day where things are very challenging. It doesn’t take long until we find ourselves in a very hard predicament and that’s why we need to keep a close eye on our children.”
“We beg you to keep your children safe, so something like this doesn’t happen again.”