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Sandra Johnson was taking a step into the limelight in her teenage years.
She had been a fancy shawl dancer since the time she could walk, and now the Ojibway teen from Ontario’s Seine River First Nation was transferring that rhythm to the drums.
She was the newest addition to her brother’s band, practising her instrument with diligence to prepare for local shows in Thunder Bay, Ont.
After a shy start, she quickly found her footing in the music she performed. She loved it, and so did the people watching her.
But when Sharon Johnson thinks about her sister, Sandra, she recalls a moment that happened offstage.
“I would have to say my favourite memory of my little sister would be just hanging out in my kitchen, listening to music, playing cards,” Sharon said.
“That’s what I remember most.”
Sharon says those simple times were punctuated with laughter and good conversation; the kind that two best friends would share. Out of the seven Johnson siblings, Sharon and Sandra spent the most time together. The pair ended up living together when Sandra moved to town.
On a winter night more than two decades ago, Sandra left the apartment around midnight to go visit a cousin.
Somewhere between her home and her destination, she was murdered.
Her body was found in the early morning hours of Feb. 13, 1992, on the icy surface of the Neebing-McIntyre floodway in the city’s east end.
When Sharon came back to the apartment that day, two Thunder Bay police officers were waiting for her.
Sharon says detectives have been in touch with the family on and off since that morning, their last meeting being about ten years ago. She believes, however, that her sanity is equally as important as a police update.
“I think if I were to get up every day and go out and try to find answers and talk to the police… I think I would go crazy myself,” she said.
She organizes the annual Full Moon Memory Walk and Valentine's Day Memory Walk in Thunder Bay to honour both Sandra and other missing and murdered indigenous women across Canada.
As much as the walk is commemorative, Sharon also thinks it’s a way to keep police on their toes.
“[The chief of police] does come out and support the memorial walks and the deputy chief… ” she said .
“They usually come and speak to the walkers… at City Hall before we start walking… and say, you know, this is where things are at with these investigations and we’re going to continue working with the families.”
Sharon was also able to bring attention to Sandra’s murder in Ottawa. She was selected to take part in the national roundtable with premiers and two federal cabinet ministers on Feb. 27, 2015.
She supports the possibility of a federal inquiry into the women she honours every year.
“I’ve always said yes... because I know that there’s other family members, there’s lots of other family members out there, and just alone here in Thunder Bay that I met... that don’t even know where to begin, don’t even know where to begin to find that healing.”
Sandra’s case was 23-years unsolved in 2015. Whether or not the Johnsons ever find concrete closure, Sharon focuses on a greater truth about the person who killed her little sister:
“They’re not going to live a normal life, knowing that they did this to her… and they took her from her family.”
CBC News continues to investigate missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada, looking at the unsolved cases and telling the stories of the families and communities.