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Finding her voice: Vanessa Brousseau

Updated: Jan 29, 2023

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

As I prepared to write my post this week, I found myself looking out the window at all the people passing by my downtown office. With the unseasonably nice weather, the streets were full. All sorts passed my office- people dressed in their finest suits, students out grabbing lunch between classes, young moms pushing strollers and individuals experiencing difficult times. Everyone was sharing the same sidewalk, sharing a small moment in time, and I could not help to think about a horrible statistic I had read this week- that since my posting Friday, at least 3 Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or have been murdered. What if one of the people who passed my window this afternoon never came home? How many women are being searched for, missed by their families, on the very streets that I look out at every day?

Right now, the Bear Clan Patrol in Winnipeg is searching for Ashlee Shingoose, 31; Thunder Bay Police are looking for 25-year-old Latanya Tait; and Courtney Wale, 21, is desperately being searched for in Vancouver.[1] They are far from the only women missing, and sadly, many of them will never come home.

Pamela Holopainen never came home. She was only 22 when she was last seen leaving a house party in the early hours of December 14th, 2003. After 19 years, her sister, Vanessa Brousseau, has never given up hope and today, her story is well known across Canada. Brosseau has become an activist, not only for her sister but for all Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

“Holopainen’s case and Brousseau’s experience with it have inspired much of the work she’s doing now.”[2] Brousseau claims that the police failed to take her sister’s case seriously right from the start- unsurprising given what we have discussed over the last two weeks.[3] She hoped that all that would change after the national inquiry on MMIWG, but it didn’t. The change and relationship-building she hoped would come from the inquiry never happened, and her family continued to be unheard, their pleas unanswered. And just like her sister, more families continue to have empty seats at their tables. Their stories, when reported, shake the core of the nation resulting in many promises, few of which are met. But every week it continues, new names- like Taylor Edwards, reported missing in Vancouver yesterday, are added to the list of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. [4]

Vanessa Brousseau

And despite the inquiries, the news stories, and promises for change, Brousseau notes that “Indigenous women were not always listened to or heard.”[5] She always felt like her voice was suppressed. But she has finally found it- through social media, where she advocates for not only her sister’s case but for all missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit individuals. Brousseau has started a discussion that has created a space for people to learn about MMIWG. She is sharing their stories with thousands of followers on TikTok and has over 1.5 million likes across multiple countries, including France, Switzerland, Germany, Finland and Russia.[6] Her content educates and informs her followers on numerous topics, including the Calls to Action and the National Inquiry on MMIWG. She has found her voice, and even the Senate is listening.[7] Her account, widely covered in the press over the last two years, is helping to continue the conversation on the MMIWG on both the national and international scale, helping to make sure that we do not continue to lose our women and girls into the future. She says that “it is nice to have a voice.”[8] Good news Vanessa, people are listening.

To me, the work of Brousseau is an example of why if we want to see actual, long-lasting change on MMIWG, as well as the many issues surrounding reconciliation, we all need to get involved. We need to stand up, take action and force change to happen, just like Vanessa Brousseau.

Until next time,

Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG

For those who want to learn more about Vanessa Brousseau, you can find her TikTok at @resilientinuk.

[1] “Bear Clan Patrol search Winnipeg streets for 2 Indigenous women, 1 missing nearly a year”, CBC News (25 January 2023), online: <>.; “Search underway for two missing Indigenous women possibly in Vancouver”, Vancouver Sun (25 January 2023), online: <>. [2] Amanda Rabski-McColl, ““It’s not just about my sister anymore,” says MMIWG activist”, Collingwood Today (13 January 2023), online <>. [3] Harry Linley, ““I won’t stop”: Sister of missing Indigenous woman uses Tiktok to spread awareness” Vancouver is awesome (30 September 2022), online: <>. [4] Supra note 1. [5] Dave Johnson, “Indigenous Welland woman finds her voice through TikTok”, Welland Tribune (13 February 2022), online: <>. [6] Ibid. [7] Ibid. [8] Ibid.

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