A year after the first official search for Denny Poole in early May 2016, not much has changed. There are still prayers for safety and a struggle to comprehend the loss.
“We prayed to the creator, so the creator could help us and get him home,” said Jenny Poole, the 15-year-old’s grandmother.
More than a year after Poole went missing, family and friends still struggle to explain the loss.
For one advocate for the family, Poole’s disappearance has highlighted an under-discussed issue: missing and murdered Indigenous men and boys.
On a Sunday in early March, friends and family of Denny Poole gathered to mark a somber anniversary. At a small ceremony at the family home, they passed a pipe, smudged themselves and prayed for the safe return of the boy, who disappeared from a roadside one year ago.
“The days turn into weeks, the weeks turn into months, and now the months have turned into a year,” said Alisha Poole, Denny’s sister. “He’s still out there somewhere, we just haven’t found him yet. We haven’t given up.”
Poole and a friend set out on foot for Fort St. John from Dawson Creek on March 12, 2016. The two planned to make the 70-kilometre trek to meet a girl, but became separated around dusk near the Kiskatinaw River.
Denny’s companion was returned home safe, but Denny himself hasn’t been seen or heard from since. Police and volunteer search parties spent weeks combing the area around the Kiskatinaw with no success.
Sharla Bruun, a support worker with Aboriginal Family Services who has worked with the Pooles since Denny was a child, said family and friends want to keep the case top-of-mind in the community.
“He may show up,” she said. “Even for farmers out there—if they’re out in the field and happen to see something, they won’t think ‘oh it’s nothing.’ They’ll get down and have a look.”
“Some way, some how to give closure to this family, and we can move on.”
‘It’s a loss you cannot put an end to’
For Bruun, the case has highlighted the need to better understand why indigenous boys go missing.
“Most of what we hear about around here on the Highway of Tears is the women, but we hear very little about the men and boys,” she said, referring to a stretch of Highway 16 where as many as 40 Aboriginal women have been killed or gone missing since 1969. “It really came to the forefront with Denny.”
In February, the federal inquiry into missing and murdered women and girls was expanded to include men and boys, but it remains to be seen how those findings will be incorporated into the inquiry. A 2015 Statistics Canada report found aboriginal men were seven times more likely to be victims of a homicide than non-aboriginal men.
Since Denny’s disappearance, “we’ve heard a lot about children from the Grande Prairie and Prince George areas where they’ve just gone missing—men and boys,” Bruun said. “There are families out there that are hurting as bad as we are because the men have gone and the boys have gone. The focus needs to be on people—missing and murdered people.”
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a man, a woman, a boy or girl,” she added. “It’s important because it’s a loss, and it’s a loss you cannot put an end to. You can’t grieve it.”
Alisha, who has two young boys of her own, still struggles to explain what happened to Denny.
“I keep telling them the same thing: ‘Uncle Den-Den is out for a really long walk,” she said, “and he’ll be back when he’s back.’”