Law enforcement officials have received tips as recently as this week in the case of Sheila St. Clair, a Duluth woman who has been missing for five years, Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said at a news conference Tuesday outside the Central Hillside Community Center.
Before that, there was another tip in March.
"Each one of those tips, we work in earnest to follow those leads to their natural conclusion in hope that it will be what leads us to bring Sheila home," Tusken said, during what has become an annual update on the case and reminder to the community to pass along any relevant information to authorities.
Tusken said the police department is very close to determining what happened to St. Clair, about the same as five years ago, but there are still holes in the case. He encouraged anyone with any information to call the Violent Crimes Unit at 218-730-5050.
St. Clair, who would be 53 now, had plans to travel to the White Earth Reservation in western Minnesota in mid-August 2015. She never made it and wasn't heard from again. A lack of check-in was unlike her, according to family at the time. St. Clair was last seen near the area of the 100 block of West Third Street in Duluth and was later reported missing by an adult daughter.
The Native American woman who sometimes used the name Sheila Jackson did not have a car, and might have gotten a ride from someone, according to early reports.
Shawn Carr, of the advocacy group Idle No More, held a cardboard sign Tuesday that read "Honor our women" and told media and other supporters that he struggled to sleep the previous night. He has been behind the yearly return to the Central Hillside park to talk about St. Clair. He knew her, he said, and he would like for her family to get closure.
"It seems it gets tougher every year," he said.
Mayor Emily Larson called St. Clair's case a "raw, open wound" for people in this community.
"Sheila is someone's friend," she said. "She's a sister. She is a daughter. She deserves justice. She deserves to come home. So often we hear about the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women and we think that it's happening in another state, it's happening in another community. It's happening here.
"I'm heartbroken that we're here again for a fifth year."
The news conference follows the U.S. House of Representatives' recent passage of both Savanna's Act and the Not Invisible Act, both of which address missing and murdered Indigenous women. The former, named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, of Fargo, who was killed in 2017, calls for updating response guidelines, database issues, collaboration between agencies and increased transparency. The latter is about combating violent crime within Native communities.
"Yesterday, when I found out those laws were passed, I just cried tears of joy," said Jessica Smith, an advocate for both laws who presented research at the Wisconsin Capitol. "It shows that we're making progress, whether it's taking a long time, that's OK. We're making progress; our voices are being heard. That is what is meaningful and powerful to me for the creation of change."