This time of year is the worst for Bernice Catcheway.
Now, when the snow flies, she puts a hold on searching for her daughter Jennifer.
On June 19, 2008, on Jennifer’s birthday, Catcheway’s life changed forever. Jennifer went missing, even as birthday plans unfolded at Portage la Prairie.
Jennifer did not arrive for those 18th birthday celebrations.
"In short, it’s a nightmare," said Catcheway.
"You just want to wake up."
This past month, the Manitoba Metis Federation added $10,000 to an already existing $10,000 fund on offer to anyone who might have information. Catcheway is convinced someone out there knows something. And that one person could make all the difference.
"Our government decided to say, ‘OK, let’s ante this up a little bit more.’ Maybe it’s going to take the goodwill, the heart and the prayer to get that individual, whoever it is, to come out and say (it), anonymously," federation president David Chartrand stated in a news release.
"The family has said they don’t care if anybody gets charged anymore … they just want their baby home."
Back in 2008, Catcheway went to the police, who didn’t take an official statement for almost a week. She says there is no communication with police unless she calls.
"The day I reported her missing, I kind of got brushed off. ‘Oh, she’s 18, she’s on a drunk. She’ll be back in a week.’ I was so upset by this time. I was upset with the officer and said, ‘You don’t know her. How could you even say that?’ It was pretty upsetting. And they didn’t take my statement. Maybe about four or five days later, they finally took a statement," said Catcheway.
While she concedes the police more or less did their part because they did search in the beginning, the heavy burden of searching continues. Catcheway said she doesn’t have enemies, but if she did she would not wish the pain she lives with on anyone.
"It’s been horrible. Especially now, with the snow. You can’t search anymore. That’s disheartening," she said.
"People die every day. Every day, we lose loved ones. But we know where they are. We lay them down to rest. It’s the not knowing. It’s so mentally torturing. Every day, you think … My husband stopped me one day. I was entertaining too many thoughts. She suffered. Did she die quickly? All these thoughts came to me."
Her husband Wilfred reminded her to stick with facts only.
Every year, the family searches. Every summer, all summer, Catcheway said. That has taken a toll on her relationships, with her husband and with her four other children. Wilfred has been her rock, Catcheway said.
"I have 14 grandchildren. Through the years it’s been so tough on them. I miss birthdays, I miss celebrations. I miss all those things being out in the bush. My children suffered and my grandchildren suffered. Life went on, out here," she said.
"My children cried to me. They said, ‘Mom, you died when Jennifer died, because you left us.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry. Try to understand. If it was you, God forbid, but if it was you, I would never give up on you either.’ But I don’t expect anybody to understand, because it cuts so deep."
Catcheway will never stop looking for Jennifer. She and Wilfred are dedicated to their child.
"As long as I have breath," she said.
"I truly believe somebody out there knows."
When the federation added to the fund, the family received a few more tips, as recently as the night of Oct. 27.
"The day that president Chartrand announced — I was coming home from a search when I got the call — I was already brokenhearted. Every time you go out, you have that expectation you’re going to find her. This is the day that you’re going to find her. So you go like that all summer long. Coming home that day, I was just kind of feeling down and discouraged," said Catcheway.
"We didn’t find her. We got excited over one area and something that we had found. So when that call came in I was really encouraged and since then we’ve got a few tips. We’ve got calls coming in. Even last night."
Each tip is a place to search and offers the possibility of bringing Jennifer home.
Besides the $10,000 reward, the MMF stated it is paying to have 12 billboards made to announce the $20,000 reward and will pay expenses for the Catcheways to travel the province and put them up, along with posters that can be placed in communities across Manitoba.
The MMF is also placing messages on its own rotating billboards.
As well, the federation has spent two years developing a $250,000 fund that will distribute $10,000 rewards for information that leads to the location of missing Métis women and boys.
"My message to that one person — what if she was your daughter? Help me bring her home. There’s a $20,000 reward," said Catcheway.
"There’s ways you can get the information to me. You can leave a map somewhere. You can leave an anonymous letter. Somewhere, somehow, you’ll have that $20,000, and I’ll have my Jennifer."
Anyone with information can contact Bernice Catcheway on Facebook or call Crime Stoppers at 204-786-8477.
Michèle LeTourneau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun