Almost five months since Frank Gruben went missing, his brother, Steven, is still seeking answers about his whereabouts from authorities.
“I feel like we’re on standby mode,” Steven Gruben said by phone on Friday. “It’s either going to be like this for the rest of our lives, or until we find my brother.”
Frank, 30, who is Inuvialuit and Gwich’in, grew up in Aklavik before moving to study in Fort Smith. His disappearance from the town – he was last seen on May 6 – has been followed by weeks of investigation and volunteer-led searches.
Cpl Matt Halstead, an NWT RCMP spokesperson, said the investigation into Frank’s disappearance is ongoing but no new information has come in.
“We don’t know where to look,” Halstead said. “We don’t know who else to speak with.”
The last known sighting of Frank is surveillance footage of him leaving a location on Fort Smith’s Field Street, Halstead said. He said investigators had interviewed everyone seen in that footage, but nothing they found provided any clue as to what may have happened to him.
The lack of leads has been a big challenge, Halstead said. According to him, police are considering the possibility that “Mr Gruben went out into the land and something happened to him there.”
“In terms of next steps, we’re waiting for new information to present itself,” Halstead said.
He says he has filed a complaint regarding the police approach to his brother’s disappearance and contact with the family, and wants officers to have more cultural sensitivity training.
“This is our land. This is not their land,” he said. “They’re here to protect us, but I hardly see that happening.”
Steven further believes things would be different if the missing person had come from a wealthier family, and he feels Frank’s outspoken nature as a member of the territory’s 2SLGBTQIA+ community increased his chances of going missing.
Meanwhile, Steven said, the NWT’s summer wildfire crisis – and weeks-long evacuations from multiple communities, including Fort Smith – have taken time and attention away from his brother’s case.
Speaking from Aklavik, Steven touched on his own health, too. He said he hasn’t seen a counsellor for more than 10 years, and said a lack of counselling facilities in the community is making it difficult for him to cope with his brother’s disappearance.
Frank’s name on new monument
Meanwhile, Frank’s friends have worked to keep his well-being in the public eye on social media.
“Frank is beautiful inside and out. He is the kind of person who makes you want to be fully and totally yourself,” said Tamara Lynne Voudrach, a friend who has known Frank since they were teenagers.
“Now I am here and accounted for, and he is not, and that breaks my heart,” she said.
Voudrach and others have tried to encourage people to come forward with any information that could lead to finding Frank – and are lobbying for an update on work to pass territorial missing persons legislation.
The majority of Canadian jurisdictions have legislation that gives police the authority to demand records related to a missing person. The NWT has no equivalent.
In late May, RCMP suggested one barrier to their investigation had been an inability to access some records related to Frank that might help police understand what was happening on and around May 6.
“Our communities and our people will not forget promises made to help our loved ones, and hope that the work just gets done,” Voudrach said.
The territorial government says the legislation is on the way, and developing it was part of an action plan published by the GNWT to address the Calls for Justice on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People.
With the legislature now sitting for the final time before the fall election, a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls monument – understood to have been created by Inuvialuit artist Myrna Pokiak – will be unveiled at the building on Wednesday, October 4.
Voudrach hopes an update on the legislation arrives before the election.
Mahalia Yakeleya Newmark, an advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, will be at Wednesday’s monument unveiling.
“We’re a small territory. In many ways, we are like a big family. We don’t forget those we love. We want Frank to be found,” she said.
High rates of violence against Indigenous peoples are rooted in Canada’s colonial legacy, Newmark said, pointing to the hundreds of accounts referenced in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, including some provided by people from the NWT.
“I will be personally remembering him at the monument,” she said of Frank.
If you have information that can help locate Frank, RCMP ask that you call the Fort Smith detachment at 867-872-1111. You can also call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477.
Correction: September 30, 2023 – 8:44 MT. Owing to an editing error, this report initially stated that the legislature monument will include Frank’s name. Whose names will be listed, if any, isn’t yet clear. Mahalia Yakeleya Newmark said she will include his name among those she remembers at the ceremony.