Janet Lowther can no longer recall her younger sister’s voice.
“I can’t remember how she sounds,” Lowther said of the 22-year gap since Amanda Bartlett disappeared.
But she hasn’t forgotten the lengthy battle it took to get police to file a missing person report.
“Police in Winnipeg told me, ‘We don’t do family reunions here,'” Lowther told the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered
Indigenous Women and Girls in Thompson, Man., Wednesday.
Lowther and her mother, Helen Flett Bignell, vented years of frustration and anger about the way they say Amanda’s case was ignored. They say they were shunted between police agencies in The Pas, Man., and Winnipeg before Amnesty International intervened.
It was years after Amanda disappeared from Winnipeg’s notorious North End in July 1996 before she was officially declared a missing person.
The struggle was exhausting, Lowther said, and led her to conclude that she – like her sister – was not valued.
“I am not an equal person. I’m an Aboriginal woman…I’m not worth looking for. I’m not worth finding,” she said.
The pair said they have no clues, tips or idea what happened to the 17-year-old with the jet black hair and smiling dimples.
“I still pray for my daughter. I still have hope someone will know about my daughter and where she is,” Flett Bignell said.
The inquiry heard how lack of interest from police compounded the family’s grief and left them unable to process what happened and move forward with their healing.
Child and Family Services, which had Amanda in its care in a group home in Winnipeg, seemed unaware she had run away.
“Amanda was stolen from us. Amanda went to Winnipeg. Someone took her away,” Lowther said.
Adding to the mystery around what happened was the family’s shock at learning Amanda was in a group home. They only found out later Amanda put herself in care voluntarily to access programs there.
“I didn’t know she was put in a safe house,” said her mom. “I thought she would go to school.”
Lowther said she employed different strategies to get police to search for Amanda. She said they seemed interested when she described her sister as “a hooker.” And were more sympathetic when she hid her accent to sound “white.”
She said that indifference helped her to understand why “we hear in the news every day another child is gone.”
Lowther and her mom are calling it quits after appearing before the inquiry and putting their search to rest.
“Being part (of the #MMIWG movement) is not healing us,” she said, noting she will keep her sister close via a tattoo on her arm and wait to reunite with her in the spirit world.
“I want her to grow old with me. Old and wrinkled.”