Eva Potts is holding out hope that her missing sister, Misty Potts, is still alive.
As the two-year anniversary of Misty’s disappearance approaches, the family of the Alexis First Nations woman is speaking out in hopes of getting new information that could lead to her whereabouts.
The family said Misty, 37, was last seen at the intersection of Highways 43 and 765 on March 16, 2015 after leaving her house.
“She got in the car. She left. That was the last time I saw my sister,” Eva said as tears welled up in her eyes.
Hundreds of indigenous women vanish without a trace every year, but Misty’s story stands out.
Misty graduated from Onoway High School then went to Yellowhead Tribal College. She then applied for and was accepted to a diploma program at the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources in Winnipeg. She met her adviser Stephane McLachlan there and went on to complete her bachelors and masters in environment at the University of Manitoba.
“Her passions were her community. Her family was part of that community, obviously. The Nakota traditions and the earth, the environment,” he said.
McLachlan, who knew her for more than 15 years, calls her one of the most impressive students he has ever encountered, adding she defended her masters by incorporating songs and prayers that were steeped in indigenous culture and traditions.
“She was a role model for other indigenous students. She was an instructor effectively to me in terms of how to engage with those traditions and how to look for environmental justice,” she said. “She had so much promise in terms of working for her people.”
Misty enrolled in a part-time PhD program at Athabasca University and her academic work was intertwined with work she did for her community. She also completed a documentary called Awakening Spirit that looked at the impact of industrialization on First Nations communities.
“She did an environmental study for our nation, on our traditional territory on health of moose. I also know she did help our lands consultation office whenever they needed a subject matter expert,” said relative and councillor Donovan J. Alexis.
The 37-year-old is described as a singer and dancer, committed to sharing her culture and referred to as “a cornerstone in this community.”
But in the time before her disappearance, Misty had gone through a rough patch. Her brother died in 2011, then her marriage fell apart the same month. She lost custody of her young son. Sister Eva said Misty turned to marijuana, then harder drugs.
“Things just started slipping from her. It was very tough on her,” Eva said.
Her sister said Misty was starting to turn her life around, had recently moved back to the reserve and was looking into rehabilitation programs before she disappeared.
“I never saw her again after that. I always thought it was going to be … she would run out of money and come home,” Eva said. “She’s gone. There’s no evidence saying she’s alive. There’s nothing.”
The family is holding out hope but admit they are bracing for the worst.
“Every day that hope starts to go away. The reality of maybe she was killed randomly… for whatever reason is starting to become more real as the days go by, the years go by,” said her father, Percy Lorne Potts. “I feel the sunshine on me but she was all of that. She gave us life. She helped us with our life.”
A round dance will be held Saturday night at the community hall at the Alexis First Nation. Women are encouraged to wear red skirts or dresses, a symbol for missing and murdered indigenous women.
“This round dance we’re having here is to honour her but it’s also to bring awareness and education to the people in and around missing and murdered indigenous women,” said Chief Tony Alexis. “Every step we see it as a prayer. Every drumbeat, every song will be a prayer in hopes Misty will hear that song and that she will return home to her family.”
Misty’s disappearance has taken a toll on the larger Alexis First Nations community.
“Academically you lost something. Spiritually you lost something. Culturally you lost somebody. As a friend you lost something. Either way it impacted every one of our community members,” said Donovan J. Alexis.
He does not want Misty painted with the same brush as other missing and murdered indigenous women.
“She’s missing. She shouldn’t be viewed or categorized as a street person or high-risk lifestyle because she was not that person, is not that person,” he said.
Misty’s family said they are stuck in a state of limbo and torn over what to say to her seven-year-old son.
“[He] is calling me and writing me letters, telling me to give it to her because he think I know where she is,” Eva said.
Eva said she is still baffled by her sister’s disappearance almost two years later.
“I hope she’s out there. I hope if she is out there – just call, come home, tell somebody. Just tell us because this is … something I don’t wish upon anybody.”
RCMP tell Global News that this is “very much an ongoing investigation” where officers are following up on leads. Police declined to comment when asked specifically about whether there are any suspects.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Stoppers or RCMP.
Alexis First Nation is located about an hour northwest of Edmonton, near Lac Ste. Anne. (KLM, with files from Global News)