Saik’uz First Nation Pleads for Increased Support in the Search for Missing Members

Saik'uz First Nation Chief Priscilla Mueller speaks at a community gathering calling for more to be done to find Jay Preston Raphael and Chelsey Amanda Quaw (Heron).

In the quiet stretches near Vanderhoof, British Columbia, the Saik’uz First Nation community is grappling with a heart-wrenching reality: two of their own have vanished without a trace. The community leaders, alongside advocacy groups, are issuing an urgent call to action for assistance in the unresolved disappearances of Jay Preston Raphael, 28, and Chelsey Anita Quaw (Heron), 29, who have been missing for months in circumstances described as “out of character.”

The Alarming Disappearances

Raphael was last seen on February 26, walking away from a residence on Saik’uz territory. Quaw disappeared on October 11, believed to have stepped out for a cigarette from her father’s home and never returned. Despite extensive searches and public appeals, both cases remain unsolved, fueling a growing sense of desperation and frustration among the families and the broader community.

Jay Preston Raphael, 28, and Chelsey Anita Quaw (Heron), 29, have both gone missing from the Saik’uz First Nation reserve, around 85 kilometres west of Prince George, in the past year. (Submitted by Carrier Sekani Family Services)

A Community’s Cry for Help

At a press conference, Saik’uz First Nation Chief Priscilla Mueller, alongside the Highway of Tears Governing Body, implored for increased volunteer support and resources. “Our community has been deeply affected by these disappearances,” Chief Mueller stated. “We are doing all we can, but we need more – more volunteers, more resources, and more attention to this urgent matter.”

Echoing her sentiments, Mary Teegee, CSFS Executive Director of Child and Family Services and a leader within the Highway of Tears Governing Body, expressed disappointment over the lack of progress since the Highway of Tears Symposium’s recommendations in 2006. “We need to come together as a community,” Teegee urged. “Our efforts should be to support the affected families and to work diligently to bring Jay and Chelsey home.”

Families in Anguish

The families of Raphael and Quaw are in anguish, sharing their stories with palpable grief. “Jay is a loving son who always kept in touch with us,” Curtis Raphael, Jay’s father, recounted. “It’s unlike him to disappear like this, and every day without any news is a burden too heavy to bear.”

Chelsey’s mother, Pam Heron, is similarly distraught. “Chelsey is a vibrant, independent, and educated woman. She’s very loved,” Heron shared with CBC News. Her voice breaking with emotion, she emphasized the strong bond her daughter has with her family, making her disappearance all the more alarming.

Saik’uz First Nations community members and supporters attend a press conference for two missing community members. Saik’uz First Nation

Demands for Action

The First Nation’s leaders are not only asking for more boots on the ground but also for a change in how these cases are treated by the authorities. They are requesting that the RCMP escalate the investigations from missing persons to potential criminal matters. The neighboring Witset First Nation has also voiced support, criticizing the lack of media coverage and demanding justice for the missing individuals.

RCMP’s Stance

The RCMP, represented by Staff Sgt. Kris Clark, insist that the disappearances are being treated with the utmost seriousness. “While Indigenous people have historically been over-represented amongst missing persons, we are dedicated to finding Jay and Chelsey,” Clark stated, affirming that the RCMP are engaging with partners, following leads, and keeping the families informed.

How to Help

As the search intensifies, the community is hoping that public assistance can make a difference. Anyone with information is encouraged to come forward and contact Vanderhoof RCMP at 250-567-2222 or anonymously via Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).

The Saik’uz First Nation continues to hold out hope that Jay and Chelsey will be found and reunited with their loved ones. As the days pass, their plea echoes louder: help bring our missing home.