Sask. woman who disappeared with son still detained in Oregon, facing charges in Canada and U.S.

·4 min read
Saskatoon police spent days searching for 48 year old Dawn Walker, who was reported missing in Saskatoon on July 24.  (Submitted by Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations - image credit)
Saskatoon police spent days searching for 48 year old Dawn Walker, who was reported missing in Saskatoon on July 24. (Submitted by Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations - image credit)

Dawn Walker is facing charges of parental abduction and public mischief in Canada, along with U.S. charges related to using a false passport, the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) announced Monday.

"As the criminal investigation progresses there may be further charges," SPS deputy chief Randy Huisman said at a media briefing.

Walker and her son had been reported missing from Saskatoon in late July.

Their disappearance prompted extensive search parties by land, air and water, as well as a prayer vigil and walk held as people feared for their safety.

The two were located in Oregon City, Ore., on Friday, but details remain scarce on how and why they ended up south of the border.

Huisman said Walker crossed the border from Alberta into Montana, and that she was located at a rental unit in Oregon City. He said an investigation into who might have helped Walker travel is underway.

Police said another legal guardian of Walker's seven-year-old son was able to bring him home to Saskatoon on Sunday.

Walker's first court appearance in the U.S. is scheduled for Monday, according to police. Huisman said SPS is in consultation with the provincial Crown to arrange Walker's return to Canada.

Walker needs compassion: sister

During the weekend, people close to Walker said the fact that she and her son were found alive has been overshadowed by public speculation and criticism.

"Her situation needs understanding and compassion, and she needs to be heard," said Kathy Walker, Dawn's younger sister. Kathy attended a support rally for Dawn in Saskatoon on Sunday night.

"[Dawn] deserves our support, rather than pointing fingers," she said "I think we have to look at the wider system at play here and how that impacted her taking such drastic action."

Dawn is a prominent Indigenous author and high-ranking official with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations who has been described as an advocate for other Indigenous women.

The 48-year-old member of the Okanese First Nation, was first reported missing to police on July 24 after her friends and family hadn't heard from her — a behaviour considered out of character. She had been last seen on July 22 at a business in Saskatoon.

On July 25, police found her truck and other personal belongings at Chief Whitecap Park, just south of Saskatoon near the South Saskatchewan River. Police learned someone in the area had found Dawn's purse a couple of days earlier.

Emergency crews, community organizations and volunteers spent days searching around the South Saskatchewan River for Dawn and her child with no results.

Kathy said it was an incredible sense of joy and relief to learn that her sister and her nephew were alive.

"When we were searching, there were like so many different possible scenarios that came up, and this one -- to find them alive and well was the best one, and nothing else mattered at that moment."

Community members urge patience

Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte said that joy has been overshadowed by people using social media to vilify Walker.

"We really needed the public to try to understand that in these complex situations, when someone with that kind of a profile and abilities and that intelligence, that there is obviously something critically, critically wrong," she said, while attending the support rally in Saskatoon.

"We don't know. But it was something enough for for her to leave abruptly."

Okemaysim-Sicotte is the co-chair of Iskwewuk Ewichiwitochik (Women Walking Together), a grassroots group in Saskatoon supporting families of missing women and murdered Indigenous women.

She said people are angry about the resources used to search for Dawn, and the emotional toll felt by people who worried she and her son had been harmed. The circumstances are confusing, she said, but she urged people to be patient and wait for a fuller explanation.

Yasmine Ghania/CBC
Yasmine Ghania/CBC

In Regina, Joely Bigeagle-Kequahtooway, released an emotional video on social media after she, too, read negative backlash toward Dawn online.

"This poor woman is facing the legal prosecution and possibly the threat of having her son taken away from her, and what she needs is the community to rally around her and support her, her mental wellness, her emotional and spiritual and physical wellness," she said. "...the police and those authorities, they just weren't there for her. And the question to ask is why?"

An online fundraising campaign organized by Idle No More is running to support Dawn's legal defence. It's raised $13,087 by Monday morning.

"Our investigators have been advised by the U.S. authorities that they are confident Dawn Walker will be further detained in the United States for the short-term," Huisman said.