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First Nations' walkers shining spotlight on murdered, missing

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Her personal journey has lasted more than nine years.

But Brenda Osborne doesn't know if it ever will end for her or any of the First Nations' families in Canada who have had loved ones either disappear or lose their lives at the hands of another.

Originally from Norway House, Man. but now living about 800 km to the south in Winnipeg, Osborne and four others are walking from the Manitoba capital to Thunder Bay to raise awareness for murdered and missing indigenous people.

The group includes her brother, Glen Osborne, sister, Priscilla Anderson, and her daughter and Brenda's niece, Lisa Anderson, as well as close friend, Jenn Coutu.

They stopped off in Fort Frances overnight Saturday and left Sunday, but not before Osborne shared her first-hand story of loss in relation to her own daughter.

Claudette Osborne was 21 years old when she went missing on July 25, 2008 after last being seen near the Lincoln Motor Hotel in Winnipeg.

“She was pregnant with her fourth child and she was hemorrhaging, so they had to medivac her from Norway House to Winnipeg,” Osborne said about her daughter.

“She arrived at the medical boarding house the first week of July and had her daughter on July 10.”

Claudette then stayed in Winnipeg after giving birth to fight for custody of her baby against Child and Family Services in Manitoba after it took over care of the infant.

“They said they did it because she was a drug user, but she had been doing all the treatment programs she was told to do and they still took the child,” Osborne recalled.

She vividly remembers the moment her life changed forever.

“We found out through the TV news that night,” she said as her face clouded over at the memory of finding out through the media about her daughter's plight rather than from law enforcement officials.

“I just about died," she admitted. "I had a nervous breakdown, had a stroke, and lost my hearing on the left side all from the stress.”

Osborne and her family made the extensive trip to Winnipeg, wanting details on the investigation. But all they ended up with instead was frustration and disappointment.

“They didn't do anything," she charged. ”They had no leads and no tips, and just considered her as a drug user and street person.

“They always seem to label girls right away.”

Osborne, who said she also has had multiple uncles and cousins murdered or go missing with no resolution to their cases, decided to start doing awareness walks in the same vein as the mother of her cousin, Helen Betty Osborne.

Helen's case gained national attention in 1971 when she was kidnapped, beaten, sexually assaulted, stabbed more than 50 times, and eventually killed in The Pas, Man.

Four suspects were arrested but only one ever has been convicted for his part in the crime.

Helen's mother began doing walks in her daughter's memory and Brenda decided to do the same for Claudette.

“We walk annually from Norway House to Winnipeg,” she noted.

“But in the nine years we've walked, we've learned that nothing is happening and we've talked to other families who have been through the same situations,” she added.

“There's no evidence in any of these cases and it doesn't seem like anybody is doing anything.”

A national inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women and girls commissioned by the federal government earlier this year has had difficulty making much headway.

One of its five commissioners, Marilyn Poitras, resigned in dissatisfaction with the inquiry on July 11, less than a week after chief commissioner Marion Buller came under fire for moving proceedings along too slowly.

Osborne is less than enamoured with the inquiry.

“We can share our stories 100 times, a million times, and still not be heard,” she argued.

“We're always the ones sitting in the dark and always the last people to know about anything.”

Osborne was adamant she believes the courts need to start cracking down harder on convicted murderers in relation to First Nations' victims and not make their incarceration be as enjoyable or as short.

“The jails themselves aren't jails, they're day care centres,” she charged.

“My friend's daughter, Roberta McIvor, was killed in 2013 in Sandy Bay [north of Winnipeg] and the person responsible only got two-and-a-half years,” Osborne said.

“There has to be tougher sentences," she stressed. ”If you take a life, why don't you go to jail for life?

“In lots of these murders, the cops make a deal with the defence attorney and the Crown attorney, and the murderer gets a slap on the hand,” she added.

“I don't get how a murderer gets to sleep and we can't.”

Within Osborne's anger, though, rests a deep reservoir of faith that Claudette still can be found.

“We conduct search parties pretty much every day, we hold monthly vigils, and we've been dragging the Red [River] for the past four years,” she noted.

“It's the only thing that holds us together is the hope that she is still out there.”

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