‘I don’t want them to forget about Frank being missing,’ says mom Laura Kalinek

The Frank Gruben Pride Festival to honour the memory of missing Indigenous person

Steven Gruben and mom Laura Kalinek hold what is now a cherished portrait of Frank, who remains missing. (Photo courtesy of Gruben family.)

“Frank Gruben was a really outgoing person. He was caring. He would love to help people. If anybody needed help, he’d be there in a heartbeat and he really loved to speak his Gwich’in language,” says Laura Kalinek, mother of Frank Gruben.

Gruben has been missing from Fort Smith for over a year. His case raised questions about the RCMPs ability to investigate such cases and underscored the growing statistic that is missing Indigenous peoples.

His case helped prompt the development of a NWT Missing Persons Act, which will address some of the roadblocks the Mounties said they often encounter with such cases.

Frank Gruben and mom Laura Kalinek. (Photo courtesy of Gruben family.)

While Gruben might still be missing, with the help of his family and friends, his memory lives on in rainbow Technicolour.

In honour of LGBTQ+ Pride month, Fort Smith is hosting a series of events to celebrate Gruben, a two-spirit Dene man and raise awareness about his case.

“I don’t want them to forget about Frank being missing,” says Kalinek of the Frank Gruben Pride Festival this weekend. “I want (his memory) to stay alive.”

This will be the first event of its kind in the South Slave.

Kalinek remembers the first time Gruben came out to her.

She said, “I accept you, son. You’re my boy. I have to accept whatever you choose in life.”

She adds: “People got to realize, everybody has their own life and what they choose to be. It’s not up to how we want it to be.”

Although, Kalinek is grateful for the support and acknowledgement from the community of Fort Smith, she says, “I don’t think I’m a going into that community again.”

She will watch from her home in Aklavik and will rely on regular calls from participants to update her on the events.

Laura Kalinek, mom of Frank Gruben, with a missing poster. (Photo courtesy of Gruben family.)

“It’s important to cry,” she says. “I just want to thank the community of Fort Smith for not giving up on my son.”

Ryker Lonehardt is a transgender student from Paul William Kaeser High School and the main organizer for the event.

“There hasn’t been anything in so long,” says the 17-year-old, “and even what has been done was so little.”

Lonehardt says, they were so moved by Gruben’s case they decided to put this event together themselves.

Lonehardt remembers feeling scared and stressed walking around their community knowing that Gruben had gone missing without a trace.

“It’s not an uncommon reality for a lot of LGBT people and a lot of Indigenous people too,” says Lonehardt. “It’s scary because ever since I’ve come out as trans I definitely know there are people in my town who don’t support but they just keep it behind closed doors.”

The festival is free and includes performances by Thunder Normz, CandyPop, Gemma Emma and Slickeur.  A drag brunch, contest and story time are also a part of the weekend festivities.

Thebacha MLA Jay McDonald recently spoke of the upcoming Frank Gruben Pride Festival in the NWT Assembly.

“This free community festival serves as a beacon of inclusivity, solidarity, and remembrance. The Frank Gruben Pride Festival provides a safe haven for members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community and their allies to honour the memory of Frank Gruben, a missing Indigenous person. In a world where safety and acceptance are not always guaranteed, events like this play a critical role in fostering a sense of belonging and dignity.”

McDonald said what will make the festival truly special is its diversified approach to advocacy and celebration.

He said the event promises to serve as a platform for artistic expression and cultural exchange through the sale of their art, participants show solidarity and support for causes close to our hearts, including missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, LGBTQIA2S+ rights and the memory of Frank Gruben.

“Join me in supporting the Frank Gruben Pride Festival and its mission to create a more just and compassionate society,” said the MLA, who was Fort Smith’s deputy mayor. “Let us stand together in celebrating the richness of our community and honouring the memory of those who have been lost.”

Anyone with information on Gruben’s whereabouts is to contact the Fort Smith RCMP detachment at 867-872-1111 or via Crime Stoppers.

– with files from James O’Connor.

About the Author

Mariah Caruso
Mariah Caruso is a digital journalist, originally from Toronto, Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a Hons. Bachelor of Arts and completed her Journalism post-grad at Sheridan College. She has an insatiable appetite for life, storytelling, connecting to the people, and getting to the heart of the issue. On her spare time, you can find her at your local coffee shop writing songs, poetry and prose or at the gym out-lifting men. If you have a story idea, feel free to send her an email at mariah.caruso@cklbradio.com or call 867-766-2552 Ext 108