Leaders of a small Saskatchewan First Nation seek answers after a teenage member who had been missing for nearly a year was found dead in an apartment in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Fourteen-year-old Noelle O’Soup lived in Port Coquitlam, BC, but was originally from the 1,500-member Key First Nation in southern Saskatchewan.
“Noelle was a young member of our community,” said Key First Nation band councilor Solomon Reece.
“As far as I understand, she was in (BC Department of Children and Family Development) care and bouncing from house to house, which unfortunately is a reality for many of not just children in our community, but children in the indigenous community in wide sentence,” Reece added.
O’Soup disappeared from her home in Port Coquitlam on May 21, 2021.
“I do know that our current chief, then a councilman, was put on a task force with the Vancouver Police Department to determine where she was,” said Reece, adding that the band was also offering a $10,000 reward for Noelle’s safe return.
“Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to find her.”
Almost a year after she went missing, two bodies were found on May 1 in a Heatley Street apartment on the Downtown Eastside. One of the bodies was identified as O’Soup earlier this week, according to the Vancouver Police Department.
“Earlier this week, we received confirmation from the BC Coroners Service that Noelle’s (body) was one of two people discovered on May 1, police spokesman Sgt. Steve Addison of Vancouver in an email Thursday.
“Until then, her identity was unknown.”
The fact that the teen’s body went unidentified for nearly two months is hard for Key First Nation members to take.
“It’s always very hard and upsetting to lose a young member of our community,” Reece says. “It was a very tough day for us yesterday and a very tough morning for us too as we begin communicating with our members and members of her family.”
The causes of the death of Noelle and the person she was found with remain unknown. According to the police, the body of a man in his forties was found in the same apartment at the end of February and crime has not been ruled out.
“It’s incredibly important to the family and our community that we have the answers to understand what happened, not just the circumstances of her death, but the circumstances that led to her death,” Reece said.
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs echoes those comments.
“The band and all loved ones deserve those answers, and they deserve the right access to the information, the right reporting and to know if this was foul play or an overdose,” Wilson said. “It cannot be downplayed.”
Both Wilson and Reece believe Noelle O’Soup’s system has failed, as if it has many missing and murdered Native women and girls.
“Why do these children die in care? And they are not respected, they are not highly regarded. All children should be held in high esteem and there should be no tragedies happening to the children in shelters,” Wilson said.
Reece demands a full investigation and cooperation from all authorities involved.
“But we also need system change,” he said. “How many children are still missing, and how many do we have to lose before significant changes are made, both at the federal and state levels?”
They fear that if those changes don’t happen, more vulnerable girls like Noelle O’Soup will die.