Manitoba

Sagkeeng woman walking to Winnipeg seeking justice for slain cousin

A woman from Sagkeeng First Nation is walking to Winnipeg seeking justice for missing and murdered women, girls and men in her community, including her cousin.

Fonessa Bruyere, 17, was found stabbed to death in August 2007

The body of Fonessa Bruyere, 17, was found in August 2007. No one has ever been charged in her death. (Submitted by Bruyere family)

A woman from Sagkeeng First Nation is walking to Winnipeg seeking justice for missing and murdered women, girls and men in her community, including her cousin.

Crystal McLean set out with a group of people from Sagkeeng — about 100 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg — Friday morning at the site of a monument dedicated to the missing and murdered from the community.

One of those victims is McLean's cousin Fonessa Bruyere, who was found dead at age 17 in 2007.

No one has ever been charged in her death.

"She was loved, she was cared for, and somebody took her and somebody out there might see us and have a conscience," McLean said.

She, her son and a few family members are walking and carrying signs with pictures of people who have been killed or gone missing, including some from outside the community. 

"I got really close with a lot of family members not from Sagkeeng, because I go to gatherings every year for missing and murdered," she said. "We all know what each other is going through, so it's very comforting to be with people that are hurting like you."

The group stopped at South Beach Casino and Resort along Highway 59 Friday night, and McLean expects to arrive in Winnipeg either Saturday evening or Sunday morning. Along the way, they will visit the place where Fonessa Bruyere's body was found.

Bruyere was found stabbed in a field near Ritchie Street and Mollard Road, just north of Winnipeg's city limits, in August 2007. In the 12 years since, McLean said her cousin's case has grown cold. 

Although investigators have kept in contact with the family, McLean says she's frustrated there have been no new leads in the case, despite DNA that was found underneath Bruyere's fingernails.

"It's hard, because we look forward to meeting with [investigators] and asking our questions, but then, of course, we never get any straight answers," McLean said.

Janet Bruyere and Crystal McLean attended the unveiling of a monument to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Sagkeeng First Nation earlier this month. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The death of her cousin has had a severe impact on McLean's family, and she said it fuelled her own addiction to crystal meth, which she managed to kick nearly three years ago.

Bruyere had been in the care of Child and Family Services at the time of her death. Her grandmother, Janet Bruyere, told CBC News in October 2018 that Fonessa had been kicked out of her group home a month before her death.

Two years later, two of Fonessa's friends met the same fate. The bodies of Cherisse Houle and Hillary Wilson were also found outside of the city, a month apart, during the summer of 2009. They, too, were in CFS care.

With files from Nelly Gonzalez and Jillian Taylor

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