DNTO

A broken family: Katherena Vermette's life changed when her brother disappeared

He had fluffy black hair, liked hockey and lacrosse, and he wore tight jeans.In 1991, when poet Katherena Vermette was 14, her older brother Donovan disappeared a few months before his 19th birthday. Vermette recalled that he has been out with friends at a bar across the river. Close to closing time, his friends started walking home. But it was cold...
He had fluffy black hair, liked hockey and lacrosse, and he wore tight jeans.

In 1991, when poet Katherena Vermette was 14, her older brother Donovan disappeared a few months before his 19th birthday. 

Vermette recalled that he has been out with friends at a bar across the river. Close to closing time, his friends started walking home. But it was cold outside so her brother decided to wait and try to catch a ride. 
He ended up getting a lift partway, but because he didn't have any money to pitch in for gas, he had to cross a bridge to get the rest of the way home.  

"My mother woke up the next day with an unsettling feeling because her son hadn't come home," Vermette explained.

After waiting almost 24 hours, Vermette's mom tried to file a missing person's report with police. They suggested she wait and said that he would probably come home on his own.  

"They didn't understand, or for whatever reason, it wasn't relayed that he was a kid. My parents felt that my brother's disappearance wasn't taken seriously," she said.

The family posted posters, her brother's football teammates came to help, and search parties from his school scoured the riverbank looking for clues. 

As time passed, Vermette's mother contacted police trying to get some assistance. "Whoever took her call said we should hold off," Vermette recalled. "[And said] What's likely happening is that my brother was off somewhere and maybe it was our fault that he wasn't coming home. Because maybe he was embarrassed by all of this stuff we were doing to try to get him to come home."  

As time went by, the Vermette family was told that Donovan probably tried to cross the partially frozen river and fell in. 

Six months later they received confirmation. "His body was found just north of Grand Beach so it had travelled very far away, up the current," Vermette said. "It was found by a gentleman walking his dog."

Vermette said during the process, her family got no reassurance from outside their community that the situation was real. 

"We were broken. We never repaired from that fracture that happened. We had started the journey of my brother's disappearance with a lot of energy and a lot of anger and a lot of frustration. That really drove us for a long time, trying to find answers. And then they never came. He was a good kid. And he should have been treated like one."

Vermette's book,  North End Love Songs, won the 2013  Governor General's Award for Poetry and a section in the book features poems about her brother. 

poems300.jpg
indians 

indians go missing
they tell the family
indians go missing
everyday
blue suits shrug
no sense looking
they said
he'll turn up when
he gets bored
or broke

indians drown
the family finds out
happens everyday
this land floods
with dead indians
this river swells
freezes
breaks open
cold arms of ice
welcomes indians

indians get drunk
don't we know it
do stupid things
like being young
like going home alone
like walking across
a frozen river
not quite frozen 
and not making it
to the other side

by Katherena Vermette from North End Love Songs


Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.