'Life flows forever': Sagkeeng First Nation unveils MMIWG monument

Dozens of families of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls from across the province gathered in Sagkeeng First Nation for the unveiling of a special monument to remind them of their loved ones.

Families from across Manitoba hope new statue brings peace and healing

Two women console grandmother Janet Bruyere during her speech at the inaugural ceremony of a bronze monument representing missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Sagkeeng First Nation on Thursday. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls gathered in Sagkeeng First Nation on an emotional Wednesday afternoon under the sweltering sun for the unveiling of a special monument.

"I'll be thinking of my granddaughter" when she looks at it, Janet Bruyere said. She lives in the community of about 3,000 people​, about 120 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, where affected families from across the province united to remember what happened to their loved ones.

"I still wait for her calls."

Tears filled Bruyere's eyes as memories of her deceased granddaughter flooded her thoughts. She spoke about her reaction to the bronze statue of a young girl wearing a jingle dress adorned in flowers to represent the families searching for peace after so much heartbreak and loss.

"It's hard. It's just like opening another wound again," she said.

Janet Bruyere, left, and Crystal McLean spoke about their loved one Fonassa Bruyere at Thursday's ceremony. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Fonassa Bruyere, 17, was last seen on Aug. 9, 2007, in Winnipeg before her body was found 11 days later in a field northwest of the city. Her grandmother said the teen was stabbed 17 times. Her killer has never been found.

"She's always in my heart. I'll never forget. I don't know if I'll ever be able to let go," Bruyere said, reminded of Fonassa's smile, her jokes and her dancing.

A year after they buried her, the family moved back to the community, Bruyere said. She knows she's not alone in her pain and suffering there. Sagkeeng First Nation​ has the highest rate of missing and murdered of any community in Canada.

"I know how they feel," she said about other affected families.

"I feel the same way."

Never forget

An advocate working with the grandmothers and families explained the significance of the statue known as Kakigay-Pimitchy-Yoong Pimatizwin, which translates into "life flows forever."

"Life is always flowing," said Lillian Cook, who helped co-ordinate the memorial.

The artist behind the metallic monument based it on a plaster model of his own daughter. Wayne Stranger, who also designed the buffalo statue poised in front of the Indigenous student centre at the University of Manitoba, spent 1½ years working on the monument.

Kakigay-Pimitchy-Yoong Pimatizwin, which means 'life flows forever,' is a bronze statue of a young girl in traditional regalia designed to help bring healing to families of missing and murdered loved ones. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Cook said the image represents the missing and murdered women and girls who may have endured abuse, violence and trauma during their lifetimes.

"Even when you step on a flower, the flower will stand up. And if you keep stepping on that flower, the flower keeps standing up until she falls and can't stand no more," Cook said.

Missing and murdered men and boys are also remembered through a scarf wrapped in the girl's hands as she dances, Cook said.

"They all have a little story in there … [a] little bit of pieces, little bit of things that are on the monument represents each one of the families," she said.

"And for the girls that love to dance, this is theirs."

Dozens of affected families from across the province congregated in Sagkeeng First Nation to witness the unveiling of a new monument meant to remind them of the missing and murdered. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Crystal McLean joined her grandmother for the unveiling ceremony. She previously struggled with methamphetamine during her younger years, but quit using the substance before she became another statistic. McLean began her healing journey on a walk for her murdered relative Fonassa.

"We wanted our own monument for the grandmothers so their loved ones won't be forgotten," McLean said.

"It's just like an open wound that's never going to close. Never going to close until we find out what happened to her. Somebody out there took her and murdered her. And we want to know why."

While many of the questions raised by the families may not be answered as investigations run dry and cases turn cold, McLean and her grandmother hope the monument brings peace and healing to their community.

Families from Sagkeeng First Nation started walking from their home community Sunday morning calling for an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW). They're headed for the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg and hope to arrive Tuesday. 2:14

With files from Nelly Gonzalez and Jill Coubrough