A Metis fiddler played Amazing Grace next to a sacred fire at the Ma Mawi Chi Itata Centre in Winnipeg as dozens offered tobacco to Crystal Saunders at a vigil in her honour.
It’s been nearly 17 years since Saunders, 24, went missing from Winnipeg and found deceased in rural Manitoba a day later. Nearly two decades later, on Jan. 29, 2024, Manitoba RCMP arrested Kevin Charles Queau and charged him with second degree murder for Saunders’s death.
Cynthia Roulette, the grandmother of Saunders’s cousins, remembers her as a playful and bubbly girl growing up. She said she often relives the day she learned of Saunders’s death.
“I said, ‘oh my God. This isn’t happening this can’t be happening,’” she told APTN News at the sacred fire on the evening of Jan. 30. “The little girl that I saw in the coffin wasn’t the Crystal that I knew.”
On April 18, 2007, Saunders was last seen by a Winnipeg police officer getting into a vehicle in Winnipeg’s west end.
The next morning, she was found in a ditch near St. Ambroise, Man. by an off-duty RCMP officer.
DNA was found on Saunders’s remains and due to advancements in technology. That DNA linked to Queau to her murder police said. The news her family waited almost two decades to hear.
“When I heard it, I could scream with happiness because now we have closure, the family has closure,” Roulette said. “I mean we were one of the lucky families that got the body, that got to burry it.
“But we never ever thought that we would ever find out who the killer was but now that has come true too, which is wonderful for the family.”
The Ma Mawi Chi Itata Centre has been a common gathering space for vigils in Winnipeg. The city has been called the epicentre for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Kat Patenaude with the Manitoba Métis Federation, said identifying a woman’s nation is crucial to offer supports to families.
Saunders has previously been identified as a member of the Sagkeeng First Nation. It wasn’t until the RCMP announced Queau’s arrest when the community learned she was actually Métis from Winnipeg.
“It’s not enough to say somebody is Indigenous,” Patenaude said. “We need to know. It is a broader matter and it needs to be addressed so we can provide the culturally appropriate supports they need.”
While the RCMP’s investigation on Saunders’s case bring hope to those families that don’t have closure, Patenaude said the news reopens old wounds.
“It’s resolution to an intensive amount of work from the RMCP which we thank them for,” she said. “But it’s the beginning of a lot more conversation and a lot more healing.”