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When Fonassa Bruyere’s family learned she was missing, they didn’t waste time.
“As soon as we found out , we looked all over for her,” said Janet Bruyere, Fonassa’s grandmother.
“We looked for her for about a week.”
After that, the family went to the police.
“I tried to ask them for an incident number to give me and they didn’t give me nothing,” Bruyere said.
Instead, police said something the family would never forget.
“‘Oh she’s just a prostitute,’” said Crystal Bruyere, Fonassa’s cousin, who remembers it like it was yesterday.
“‘She’s probably just on a binge, she’ll come home.’”
The comment made Fonassa’s family believe police would not help find her.
“They should have offered us a police report and not been so degrading to my mom,” Crystal said.
The family put up their own posters of Fonassa, even asking ChildFind Manitoba to help with the task.
They never returned to police.
By the end of August, investigators came to them with a knock on the family’s door.
“I knew something was wrong,” Bruyere said.
Detectives showed Bruyere a man’s watch — the same one Fonassa’s mom wore.
“I recognized it right away,” Bruyere said.
“They said she was murdered.”
According to media reports, police believe Fonassa, who was from Manitoba’s Sagkeeng First Nation, was killed shortly after she disappeared. The cause of death was not released. Police also reported the 17-year-old worked in the sex trade.
Her grandmother says she doesn’t know about that, but Crystal, Fonassa’s cousin, is disappointed by the label.
“They see us girls as objects. I think they feel that people don’t care about us because we’re on the streets,” she said.
“But we’re still people. We’re people. People still love us. Our family still loves us.”
Shortly before her death, Fonassa visited her grandmother.
“She was hugging everybody, kissing,” said Bruyere.
“She never used to do that before. She said ‘take care’ to me.”
Confused, Bruyere asked Fonassa about her behaviour, but never got an answer.
She remembers another time, when she visited Fonassa and her mother in Winnipeg.
“What would you do if I died?” the girl asked that night.
Bruyere asked Fonassa why she posed the question.
“She kept quiet. It was not long after that she went missing.”
But Bruyere would rather remember her granddaughter as someone who loved to smile and laugh; someone who would travel with her to run errands, and spend time with her family.
As for Crystal, she insists violence needs to stop, and supports a federal inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered indigenous girls and women.
“There’s so many of our young women that are going missing and being found murdered. And why? For nothing,” she said.
“Why are we being targeted? Why are our women being targeted?”
Around two years after Fonassa’s death, the bodies of Cherisse Houle and Hilary Wilson were found on the outskirts of Winnipeg.
All were friends in life, and in death, the girls each appear on a list for Project Devote, a task force dedicated to investigating missing and murdered persons cases in Manitoba.
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.