Family pleads for information about Frank Gruben, missing from Fort Smith, N.W.T.

Frank Gruben has a smile that could light up any room.

The oldest of his siblings, Gruben — an Gwich’in Inuvialuit who was born and raised in Aklavik, N.W.T. — is described as someone who loved learning, teaching Gwich’in, and making people laugh with his silly gestures and behaviour.

Gruben is currently missing from Fort Smith, N.W.T. No one has seen him for the last 20 days.

“I just really wish and hope that someone would come forward if they have any information regarding what happened to my brother or the whereabouts or where we could find him,” said Steven Gruben, Frank’s brother.

Three people grin for a photo.
A photo taken the day Frank Gruben left for Fort Smith in August 2022. From left are Laura Lydia Kalinek, Frank’s mother; his sister Kimberlyn; and Frank. (Submitted by Steven Gruben)

Frank was in Fort Smith attending post-secondary school at the time of his disappearance. Steven said his brother left Aklavik last August. As far as the family knew, Frank was enjoying his time in the South Slave and spoke about making it his home.

“We thought he had really good friends and everything there, so we never really thought anything,” Steven said. 

Frank’s mother was the last immediate family member to speak to Frank, Steven said. She last called him on May 3, the day before Frank turned 30.

“We have not heard from Frank,” Steven said.

Frank is someone who was in touch with his family, Steven said. 

Deeply involved with his culture and a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, Steven said his brother loves his elders, had the most fun on the local radio station in Aklavik, and is an inspiration to his baby sister Kimberlyn. 

“Frank was a kind-hearted, handsome young man. Always willing to help anyone who asked for help,” Steven said.

The search continues

In the 20 days that Frank has been missing, there have been land and water searches led by community members in Salt River First Nation, the Dene band government located in Fort Smith.

Frank’s brother said there are no words when it comes to the support received from the community.

“I feel like that’s just a given up here. It’s what we do, is we take care of each other and we want to help each other in times of need — and I feel like that’s what’s happening right now,” Steven said. 

Two kids covered in dirt.
Frank and Steven Gruben as children. (Submitted by Steven Gruben)

Meanwhile, Steven said the family is losing hope in the RCMP.

Earlier this week, RCMP officials said there was no evidence of foul play in Frank’s disappearance. In a subsequent email to CBC News, police said that does not mean foul play is ruled out completely. 

“Until a person is found, no conclusions are made,” RCMP Cpl. Matt Halstead wrote.

But Steven is critical of the response. 

“I feel like they probably should’ve acted on this a lot sooner,” he said.

“We’re not really being updated. There’s not a lot being done … I’m very furious and outraged with them,” Steven said.

‘He wouldn’t just disappear,’ MLA says

Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler also raised the issue in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday afternoon. She questioned the RCMP’s statement that there was no evidence of foul play. 

“If there is no foul play then where is he? He wouldn’t just disappear,” Semmler said in an emotional statement. 

“If Frank was a non-Indigenous person from a wealthy … family, would there be more done?”

A man wearing sunglasses sits on a fence during winter.
The last known photo of Frank Gruben at the snake pits in Fort Smith. (Submitted by Steven Gruben)

Semmler highlighted the work being done by government to raise awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit people (MMIWG2S), and asked the public how they would feel if this was their son, brother or grandson missing.

Another missing person

The pain is deep for the family, as this is not the first family member to go missing in the South Slave.

Frank Stewart, grandfather of Frank and Steven Gruben, went missing in Hay River years before they were born.

Stewart was attending a Dene Nation meeting in Hay River in 1983 when he was reported missing. RCMP confirmed the missing person file is still active.

“You can imagine the pain that we’re all feeling,” Steven said. 

A photo of a smiling elderly woman and a grinning young person.
Renie Stewart, left, with her grandson Frank Gruben. (Submitted by Steven Gruben)

At this point, Steven said, the family is asking what needs to happen to get the RCMP to utilize more resources.

“I’m just so upset with the way everything is going,” he said. 

As the search continues, the family is sending out a plea to anyone with information to come forward.

“There’s so many people that are heartbroken, and many, a lot of them, miss my brother — including me. I just want him home,” Steven said.

Anyone with information about Frank Gruben is asked to call the Fort Smith RCMP at 867-872-1111 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

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