Valentine’s Day this year marked three years since Tracy Day went missing.
Day, who is Lingít, is one of several Alaska Native Juneau residents who disappeared and haven’t been found. About 30 people gathered on Monday night to share their stories and sing to their missing loved ones.
They stood near a row of seven portraits propped near the whale statue in Overstreet Park. All were of Alaska Native people who went missing in Juneau or nearby communities, including Day. Most have not yet been found or were found dead.
Mike Kanaagoot’ Kinville was looking at the portraits, then turned to share his story about Day. His family and Day’s family have been close for generations, so he has a lot of stories, like when Day was 14 years old and she ran away from home in Juneau and beelined for his house in Ketchikan.
“She had known that I was a drinker at one time and she came looking to drink with me,” Kinville said. “And I had gotten sober since then, so I was in a position to take her in and started doing foster care for her.”
Kinville said she stayed with the family for nearly three years. He said she had a lot of charisma — that she was joyful and mischievous at the same time — and that she was “kind of a smart aleck.”
Kinville’s family ended up taking care of Day’s daughters, too: the older one, when Day went away to nursing school, the younger one, after Day went missing.
“Our families are tied together really close,” Kinville said. “My mom and dad took in Tracy’s mom when she was a teenager, too. That’s pretty Lingít too, the generational ties back and forth together.”
Before Day disappeared, Kinville said she had her ups and downs. She struggled with substance use and her mental health. It’s the kind of thing a lot of families experience but don’t usually talk about.
“You learn to guard your heart to a certain extent with situations as much as you can, but you still get bruised,” he said. “And, in this case, heartbroken. It’s just, the heartbreak can’t heal because we don’t know what happened to her.”
Kinville said that what makes it even harder is that before she disappeared, Day seemed like she was getting some stability in her life.
“We were hopeful,” he said.
As he looked down the row of photos of Juneau’s missing again and talked about each of the families they left behind, he got choked up.
“You know, I said heartbroken, but what it feels like is an ache in my soul,” Kinville said. “It’s just so deep, you know, deeper than my bones. This sense of this unresolved pain that goes on and on. It’s really difficult. My heart goes out to the families of these missing people. I imagine I have their sympathy as well. The other part about it that’s difficult is, you know, life goes on for everybody else, and things go back to normal, and that part of us is still missing.”
Kinville said he’s hoping the vigil will help people understand what it’s like to love someone and not know what happened to them. It’s a wound that won’t close.
“It’s important for a community to come together and not give up on the people who are missing and not marginalize these people. What’s common here is race and income bracket, you know. That’s not the society that I want to live in, and I think we can do better than this,” he said.
Several women sang throughout the night for those who have missing and murdered Indigenous relatives. They’re called Strong Women, and Rhonda Butler is one of them. Butler is the President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 2 in Juneau. She said she and the women who joined her sing to bring strength to families who are struggling from these losses.
“One of our strengths is our voices, and if we don’t use our voices, no one will hear. So we’re here to share a couple songs with everyone here in honoring Tracy Day and all the other missing and murdered Indigenous peoples,” she said.
The temperature dropped as the sun went down, but people stuck it out. They lit candles and sheltered the flames from the wind. Then they started lighting flying lanterns.
Toward the end of the evening, as the snow started to fall more heavily, one woman said she wanted to sing a hymn for Tracy Day. Day’s twin sister Angela jumped up and ran over to join in.
They huddled together, rocking and shivering as they sang “How Great Thou Art,” as the flickering light from sky lanterns faded off into the distance over Gastineau Channel.