Sagkeeng First Nation has most unsolved cases of missing or murdered indigenous women

Manitoba's Sagkeeng First Nation has the highest number of cases of unsolved missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada.

First Nation near Winnipeg has six cases of slain women

Manitoba's Sagkeeng First Nation has the highest number of cases of unsolved missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. 3:00

Manitoba's Sagkeeng First Nation has the highest number of cases of unsolved missing or murdered indigenous women in Canada, according to a CBC analysis of outstanding cases​

The community of 3,000 people​, about 120 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg,​ has six cases of slain women. Manitoba has 46 ​unsolved ​cases overall.

The cases from Sagkeeng are: 

  • Tina Fontaine: Her body was pulled from the Red River in August 2014.
  • Fonessa Bruyere: She was found dead on the outskirts of Winnipeg in August 2007.
  • Glenda Morrisseau: Her beaten body was found in St. Boniface in 1991.
  • Moira Erb: She was found dead in a remote area between railway tracks in northwest Winnipeg in 2003.
  • Kelly Morrisseau: Glenda Morrisseau's niece was found naked, dying of stab wounds in Gatineau, Que., in 2006.
  • Crystal Saunders: Her body was dumped in a ditch in St. Ambroise in 2007.

The community has started using sharing circles in an attempt to heal.

Janet Bruyere, Fonessa's grandmother, met Tina Fontaine's great-aunt Thelma Favel at a sharing circle in January. They bonded over the deaths of two young girls.

"The pain is still there. It will never go away, and it still hurts me," Bruyere said. 

Favel is outspoken about how Child and Family Services and the Winnipeg police didn't protect her great-niece. 

"If they were doing their job, would Tina still be here? And they failed her that night. All those agencies failed her," Favel said.

Both Fonessa and Tina struggled with high-risk lifestyles in Winnipeg before they were killed.

Of 110 families of missing and murdered indigenous women that CBC talked to, nearly three-quarters of them said their relatives had been exploited in the sex-trade, hitchhiked or had drug and alcohol addictions.

Lillian Cook said so many Sagkeeng teens get into trouble because Winnipeg is close by.

"It is easy to get there, and you see people hitchhiking, and you see our young people hitchhiking, and it's dangerous. it's really dangerous," Cook said. 

Favel and Bruyere were brought together in the sharing circle by Cook, and CBC caught up with all three women in Sagkeeng.

"[Bruyere] knows what I'm going through. We both experienced the same loss in the same way. Both our granddaughters were murdered, and there is still no answers," Favel said.

The women said there need to be more opportunities for youth in Sagkeeng and less involvement with Child and Family Services.

"Work with the families first before apprehension," Favel said.

Cook added, "What if they were to finish high school, and there was some kind of program in Sagkeeng, like a beauty school, or to do their nails? That would change their life, and that gives them something to look forward to that's actually in Sagkeeng."

Sagkeeng's newly elected Chief Derek Henderson said families are already involved in a pilot project called the Circle of Care. 

The First Nation is working with the province to develop the program and help families take preventive steps so children don't have to be removed from their community.

The women said there needs to be healing now — starting with their own.

"We have some kind of closure because we know where they are now, and we know they're safe, but what about all those other families that have no answers yet, who are still looking?" Favel said.

Bruyere said that at first it was hard to talk about.

"I was scared, and I was nervous, and then I heard other people talk about their people and their kids, what happened to them, and I learned from there. But sometimes I break down. But that lady told us it's OK to break down a little bit to help you out. and you become stronger," Bruyere said.

These women now say they've formed a lifelong bond, and they are inviting others to join them.