Sagkeeng's missing and murdered Indigenous women honoured with ceremony

Sacred pipes were raised on the Sagkeeng First Nation Wednesday morning to connect with the spirits of the community's missing and murdered women.

Star blanket presented in ceremony on Sagkeeng First Nation to honour families of missing, murdered women

Sacred pipes were raised and a star blanket presented on the Sagkeeng First Nation on March 29, 2017 to connect with the spirits of the community's missing and murdered Indigenous women. 2:06

Sacred pipes were raised on the Sagkeeng First Nation Wednesday morning to connect with the spirits of the community's missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Over decades, the community has lost at least 10 women and girls — most recently Jeneanne Fontaine, who was killed on March 14 in Winnipeg.

Jeneanne Fontaine's cousin was 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, whose body was pulled from the Red River in August of 2014.

"We've been walking this journey for a number of years already," said Sagkeeng councillor Marilyn Courchene, who organized the ceremony for the families.

"They needed to gather and share their own stories together … to know that they're coming from the same places," she said.

The First Nation's leadership had a star blanket made and adorned it with a photo of each woman or girl. 

Three teenagers are remembered on the quilt — Tina Fontaine, Nicole Daniels, and Fonessa Bruyere.

It's been nearly 10 years since 17-year-old Bruyere went missing and her body was found in a field.

Families of Sagkeeng's missing and murdered women were surprised with this hand-stitched star blanket to honour those they've lost. (Jillian Taylor/ CBC)

"It bothers me. How come I didn't go over there?" said Fonessa's grandmother, Janet Bruyere. "I wanted to find her myself but I couldn't. Somebody else found her."

Bruyere cried as she remembered her granddaughter and shared her story of loss with the other families in the room. 

One by one, they each had a chance to speak and were presented with a gift.

"I really am feeling that passion for them … they will stay strong and they will divulge more of their story," said Courchene.

MMIW inquiry outreach session in Winnipeg

A team from the Assembly of First Nations also attended the ceremony to talk to the families and help them register the names of their family members with the MMIW national inquiry's database.

Inquiry staff said 152 families have registered names with the database so far, despite the fact the RCMP's MMIW list contains more than 1,200 names.

Janet Bruyere took part in the ceremony to honour her granddaughter, Fonessa, who was killed in 2007 in Winnipeg. (Lyza Sala/ CBC)
"A lot of families, they've expressed that this has been the first time they've been engaged to speak. A lot of first disclosures," said Morene Gabriel, who organized the AFN outreach session.

The team is holding its final outreach session in Winnipeg at the Victoria Inn on Thursday and Friday. Representatives from the national inquiry will be there for the first time since the inquiry began.

An inquiry spokesperson confirmed the director of community relations, Waneek Horn-Miller, and Christa Big Canoe of the legal team will make a presentation to families.

Advisory meetings begin in April and will take place in Winnipeg May 1-3.

About the Author

Jillian Taylor

CBC Reporter

Jillian Taylor has been with CBC Manitoba since 2012 and has been reporting for a decade. She was born and raised in Manitoba and is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation. In 2014, she was awarded the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association's travel bursary, which took her to Australia to work with Indigenous journalists. Find her on Twitter: @JillianLTaylor