Kyle Kematch spent years searching Winnipeg’s Red River to give closure to the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
After his passing last week, Kematch’s oldest daughter now hopes to find closure herself by searching the same river.
Kyrra Kematch, 16, is planning to join Drag the Red, the group her father helped launch. These volunteers search the river’s murky waters for any clues into unsolved cases.
“He did it because people weren’t looking for them or stopped, and he wanted to find them. Because if they’re not looking, who’s looking?” Kyrra said.
“I want to carry that on.”
Kematch died last Thursday. He leaves behind four children.
He’s remembered as a selfless man who spent years tirelessly searching the Red River and its banks for any clues into the disappearances and murders of too many Manitobans.
Kematch was also looking for any signs of his sister, Amber Guiboche, who disappeared in 2010.
Kyrra said she always admired her father for never giving up hope for his sister and many others.
“I really, really liked that he did [Drag the Red] and I like the reasons he did it,” she said. “I want to become closer with him.”
Kyrra was raised by her mother and her father wasn’t always around, but their bond was tight.
“He always asked my mom how I was and got pictures of me, and he always told me how much he loves me, how much he cares for me and how much he wants me to be happy.”
She has fond memories of learning to play baseball with a bat too big for her, and standing on her father’s hand at the beach.
Her mother, Jamie Septon, has asked the organizers of Drag the Red if Kyrra can join them, and they’re eager. Kyrra is planning to take the boat onto the water for the first time Wednesday with group co-founder Bernadette Smith, spreading tobacco into the river in her father’s honour.
She plans to join the group of draggers after that.
“Even though he was going through pain, missing Amber, he kept looking for [her] and looking for the other families. I want to keep doing that under his name,” Kyrra said.
Mourning yet still searching
It’s possible Drag the Red wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Kematch.
It was Smith, now a Point Douglas MLA, who was pleading with police to search the river for clues of other deaths, after Tina Fontaine’s body was pulled from the river in August 2014, shocking the country. The police wouldn’t go looking without evidence, Smith recalls.
She said it was Kematch who suggested they take matters into their own hands.
“It quickly went from the police not wanting to do it to Kyle coming forward and saying, ‘Let’s do it,'” said Smith, whose sister Claudette Osborne vanished in 2008.
For years, he went out there almost daily, searching the river using hooks and chains when the water wasn’t frozen. Kematch helped bring home the loved ones of some families, Smith said.
He was in the boat when Shawn Nepinak’s body was recovered, she said. In response, Nepinak’s cousin, Kayleen McKay, ran 450 kilometres in 11 days to raise thousands of dollars for Drag the Red and the work they do.
Kematch’s impact on the community was significant, as he raised awareness for his sister’s disappearance and amplified the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, Smith said.
“Kyle was someone who just had this aura about him, this energy. He was always positive. He was always kind.”
And he was happy to teach anybody who wanted to learn to search the river.
While he never got the chance to teach his daughter, his motivation to scour those waters will never be far from her mind when she’s in the Drag the Red boat.
“I really love him and I miss him,” Kyrra said, fighting back tears.
A pipe ceremony and feast in honour of Kematch will take place Thursday at 6 p.m. under the Redwood Bridge, overlooking the Red River.