Drag the Red searchers get grim lesson on finding, identifying bones

Volunteer searchers from Drag the Red got a crash course Saturday afternoon on finding bones — something they hope could bring closure to families of missing and murdered Indigenous loved ones.

Group of volunteers searches the Red River in Winnipeg for missing, murdered Indigenous women

About 25 Drag the Red volunteers came out to a crash course Saturday afternoon at the University of Winnipeg before heading to Central Park to learn hands-on how to identify human bones. (Julianne Runne/CBC)

The rakes and markers are out and the search has begun.

Today's goal: find bones.

Drag the Red's hope is such a find could give closure to a family member with a missing or murdered loved one.

It's a potential discovery the group of 25 volunteer searchers from the group, who gathered at Winnipeg's Central Park on Saturday for a crash course in identifying human bones, have to prepare for.

Volunteer searchers from Drag the Red got a crash course Saturday afternoon on finding bones — something they hope could bring closure to families of missing and murdered Indigenous loved ones. 0:49

"You're hoping to find something but then you're sort of hoping you don't, because then it means that the person is gone," said Chantel Henderson, 35.

As an Indigenous woman, Henderson herself has worried about being murdered, and she has Indigenous friends and relatives who have gone missing. One of them is Kerry Klyne.

The Indigenous man and friend to Henderson hasn't been seen since November 2010.

Chantel Henderson said as an Indigenous woman living in Winnipeg, she's worried about being murdered or going missing. She has relatives and friends who are missing. (Julianne Runne/CBC)

Saturday's training session brought memories of Klyne, and of a search for Sindy Ruperthouse — who went missing in Quebec in 2014 — back to Henderson's mind.

"Just the heaviness, you know, all the feelings."

Drag the Red started in 2014 with the goal of helping to solve cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women by searching the river, and the riverbank, for remains or other evidence.

Drag the Red searches the Red River by dropping metal bars with hooks and chains into the river to pull up possible remains.

Emily Holland, an anthropology professor at Brandon University, led Saturday's workshop on bones for the third year in a row.

Holland started the day off with a lecture at the University of Winnipeg and gave searchers a lesson on the basics.

"Bone can look like a lot of things and a lot of things can look like bone," Holland said, adding a bone could appear to be a piece of wood or plastic.

She took the group of searchers to Central Park to give volunteers hands-on experience, planting animal bones in the park for searchers to find.

'Tired of feeling injustice'

Emily Holland said the crash course gives searchers advice on what to do if they suspect they've come across bones. (Julianne Runne/CBC)

Standing side-by-side in a straight line, the volunteers made their way forward one step at a time with rakes and markers.

Holland said the skills taught in the workshop will give volunteers the information they need in the event they find bones.

Going forward, she said the volunteers will be able to contact her to get an expert's opinion on whether any bones they find in the Red River, or in the ground, are from an animal or a human.

That was reassuring for Henderson.

"I'm tired of feeling the injustice," she said.

About the Author

​Austin Grabish landed his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. This past summer, he was on the ground in northern Manitoba covering the manhunt for B.C. fugitives Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, which attracted international attention. Email: