Tina Washpan was just 21 years old when she was killed. She wanted to be a teacher and, one day, have children.
A member of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, Washpan was adopted and grew up in Saskatchewan. In 1990, her body was found near British Columbia’s Kiskatinaw Provincial Park, between Dawson Creek and Fort St. John.
In 2006, police found her killer. Paul Russell Deleno Felker was convicted of second-degree murder. The trial heard she had been hitchhiking to Saskatchewan.
On Thursday afternoon, for the first time, Washpan’s family met one of the RCMP officers who doggedly investigated her case. They wanted to thank him for all he’d done, and to finally put Washpan, whose adopted name was Cindy Burk, to rest.
Now retired, Bobby Blahun travelled to Whitehorse from Alberta with his wife, Sophie.
Washpan’s family members—cousins, aunties, and her older sister, Diane Lilley—greeted them both with hugs. One presented Blahun with a sacred drum and a mammoth-tooth necklace.
Then the family clasped hands with Blahun, his wife and the Whitehorse officers, in their stiff blue jackets, and formed a prayer circle.
It was an emotional gathering, full of tears but also laughter.
“From the bottom of our hearts, we’re so grateful for bringing closure to my family and for bringing my sister home to rest,” Lilley said to Blahun.
Both she and her sister were adopted, she said, so they didn’t see each other growing up. But when Washpan returned to the Yukon in 1990, she and Lilley spent time getting to know each other again.
“She was young. She was my baby sister. We all loved her.”
“Thank you so much for what you’ve done for our family,” said one of Washpan’s cousins, clutching a chubby-cheeked baby. She broke down into tears as she hugged Blahun.
“Thank you for having love in your heart for someone you don’t even know,” another cousin added.
When Blahun stepped up to the podium to speak, his eyes were red and his voice shaky.
“During my career with the RCMP, I learned the importance of ensuring the utmost respect and compassion for victims and victims’ families,” he said. “I always tried to do my best to follow through.”
He spoke to Washpan’s mother, Dorothy, several times on the phone, keeping her abreast of what was going on with the investigation. She died before the killer was found.
“It is with great sadness that I wasn’t able to convey to Tina’s mother that we were successful,” Blahun said.
He retired in 1999, after nine years investigating the murder. Other officers took over and continued to pursue leads, finally identifying a suspect and arresting him.
“It was an investigation that stuck with me forever,” Blahun said. “When I retired, it was the only unsolved chapter in my career.”
Supt. Brian Jones, the Yukon RCMP’s officer in charge of criminal operations, thanked the family for trusting the detachment to host the ceremony.
“I realize for some of you this may be an unusual and uncomfortable building for you to be in,” he said.
Jones started working for the Yukon RCMP in January, and he said at the time, he didn’t know Washpan’s story.
He was aware of other cases in Saskatchewan and Alberta, where he’d worked before—sisters, daughters, mothers, and cousins who’d disappeared or been killed.
Jones attended the territory’s roundtable on missing and murdered indigenous women earlier this year and it was eye-opening for him, he said. Listening to families speak about their lost loved ones stuck with him.
“I remember the courage, the pain, the need to provide support to these families, the need to provide answers about what happened, and the fact that they have not and will never forget who their loved one was,” Jones said, fighting back tears.
“Their loved ones were not a number. They’re not a photograph on a slideshow. (They’re remembered) by the way they laughed, by the way they cried, and by the way they lived, not by the way they died.”
After, Blahun slipped on some fur-lined moccasins the family had given him. Lilley asked him to strike the drum and she danced in a circle around him.
She said she’s forgiven the man who killed her sister.
“He’ll be judged by a higher power.”
Contact Rhiannon Russell at