Leaders from a small Saskatchewan First Nation want answers after a teenage member who’d 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 she originally hailed from the 1,500-member Key First Nation in southern Saskatchewan.
“Noelle was a young member of our community,” said Key First Nation band councillor Solomon Reece.
“From what I understand, she was in (BC Ministry of Children and Family Development) care bouncing from home to home, which is unfortunately a reality for many of not only children in our community, but children in the Indigenous community in a broad sense , ”Reece added.
O’Soup disappeared from her Port Coquitlam home on May 21, 2021.
“I do know that our current chief, who was a councillor at the time, was put on a task force along with the Vancouver Police looking at identifying where she was,” said Reece, who added the band also offered a $ 10,000 reward for Noelle’s safe return.
“Unfortunately, that just wasn’t enough to find her.”
Nearly a year after she went missing, two bodies were found inside an apartment on Heatley Street in the Downtown Eastside on May 1. One of the bodies was identified as O’Soup earlier this week, according to Vancouver police.
“Earlier this week, we received confirmation from the BC Coroners Service that Noelle’s (body) was one of the two people discovered on May 1,” said Vancouver police spokesperson Sgt. Steve Addison in an email Thursday.
“Until that time, her identity had been unknown.”
The fact the teenager’s body remained unidentified for nearly two months is difficult for Key First Nation members to take.
“It’s always very hard and very shocking to lose a young member of our community,” Reece said. “It was a very hard day for us yesterday and a very hard morning for us as well, as we begin to communicate with our members and members of her family.”
The causes of Noelle’s death and the person she was found with remain unknown. Police say the body of a man in his 40s was found in that same apartment in late February, and criminality 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 with the Union of BC Indian Chiefs echoes those comments.
“The band and all of the loved ones deserve those answers, and they deserve the proper access to the information, the proper reporting and to know that if this was foul play or it was an overdose,” Wilson said. “It can’t be downplayed.”
Both Wilson and Reece believe the system failed Noelle O’Soup, like it has many missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“Why are these children dying in care? And they’re not being respected, they’re not being held in high regard. All children should be held in high regard, and there shouldn’t be tragedies happening to the children in care, ”Wilson said.
Reece is demanding a full investigation and cooperation from all agencies involved.
“But we also need systemic change,” he said. “How many more children have to go missing, and how many more do we have to lose before there is significant changes at both federal and provincial levels?”
They fear if those changes don’t happen, more vulnerable girls like Noelle O’Soup will end up dead.