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2 Indigenous women, found dead in 1970s, identified by Edmonton police

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Two Indigenous women, whose identities remained a mystery for decades after their deaths, were honoured in Edmonton on Friday.

On July 30, 1975, the body of Louise Laderoute, 24, from Papaschase First Nation, was pulled from the North Saskatchewan River.

Almost a year later, on June 11, 1976, Irene Jacknife, 30, who had been reported missing from Drayton Valley, died outside an Edmonton address.

Both were buried in Edmonton ceremonies without officials being able to confirm their names.

Their files were the first to be re-examined as a part of Project Match, a collaboration by local and national authorities to review Edmonton Police Service's historical unidentified human remains investigations.

"Our investigators know from experience just how each unresolved investigation can be a source of family trauma for years, for generations even," said EPS Insp. Colin Derksen. "Through this project, Project Match, we intend to review each one of these 20 [unidentified human remains] investigations in question through a modern investigative lens using today's technology."

Supported by Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW) and the City of Edmonton’s Indigenous Relations Office, EPS began working in August 2023 with the RCMP’s National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains and the chief medical examiner's office on the cases.

Because DNA samples were not collected in the 1970s, the bodies of both women were exhumed. Two Elders oversaw the process and performed ceremonies.

The chief medical examiner's office and an external forensic anthropologist then collected DNA and re-examined both the remains and the reports from the initial autopsies.

Neither death was considered suspicious by police at the time. Autopsies concluded Laderoute drowned and Jacknife died from medical causes.

The DNA was submitted for forensic testing, DNA extraction and comparison analysis, leading to matches with familial samples that had been submitted to the RCMP National DNA Data Bank.

Derksen said EPS has reviewed the files and the remains, finding no evidence to suggest either of the women's deaths were criminal.

Both women were honoured in a ceremony in Edmonton on Friday.

"Today is a day to remember the spirits of these beautiful women. They were mothers, they were grandmothers, they were daughters, aunties, nieces. They are loved, and obviously very missed by their family and taken away far too soon," said IAAW president Josie Nepinak.

Reva Laderoute, Louise's sister, attended the ceremony. She doesn't believe her sister's drowning was an accident, but she said her identification has provided some closure.

"I'd like to re-bury her because we have a family plot in St. Albert. I'd like her to be with the rest of the family," Reva said. "I just remember she was beautiful to me. She didn't get to stay with us, but she did come to visit us, and I just wish she had gotten to stay."

Irene's son Darryl Jacknife said his mother was a kind person and losing her so young "destroyed a part" of him.

"We knew she was gone … it was just hard," he said. "Now we can try and get some closure."

"We're trying to raise money for a traditional burial and the last meal we give our family members," he added.

Both EPS and RCMP offered condolences to the loved ones of both women.

As of Friday, EPS' missing persons unit had 20 unsolved unidentified human remains files dating back to 1979 which will also be reviewed under Project Match. Investigators will be reviewing the oldest cases first. 

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