Brianna Jonnie was a 14-year-old Indigenous teen when she wrote a letter to Winnipeg's police chief giving instructions for what to do if she went missing and was found dead.
Posted: 06/03/2016 11:23 AM
Brianna Jonnie is an intelligent 14-year-old.
She’s an honour roll student, she isn’t involved in drugs or alcohol, she’s not a runaway, and she’s not involved with Child and Family Services. She has dreams of becoming a surgeon, lawyer or a police officer.
The Free Press article about Jonnie's letter went viral on social media, generating comments from people across the country including former CBC National anchor Peter Mansbridge and former CBC TV talk show host George Stroumboulopoulos.
It all resulted in Jonnie having meetings with Mayor Brian Bowman and then-police chief Devon Clunis, speaking at conferences and to organizations, and receiving honours including the Lieutenant Governor's Vice-Regal award and the City of Winnipeg Citizen Equity Committee's Youth Role Model Award.
Now Jonnie, having just turned 18, is a published author after excerpts from that two-page letter were taken to create a graphic novel.
She will celebrate the book's launch at McNally Robinson Booksellers on Thursday at 7 p.m.
"I would never have dreamed any of this would have happened — let alone the book — when I wrote my letter," Jonnie said.
"A lot more people than I expected have seen it. And now high school-junior high aged (students) can read the book."
In Jonnie's letter to Clunis, which she wrote in 2016, she said she saw differences between how the community, the media, and the police treat cases of missing Indigenous girls.
Because of this, Jonnie included instructions to Clunis, and a colour photograph of herself, on what to do if she went missing.
"If I go missing, and the WPS (Winnipeg Police Service) has not changed the behaviours I have brought to your attention, I beg of you, do not treat me as the Indigenous person I am proud to be," she wrote.
"My mom needs me, and I want to have my future. And if I do go missing, and my body is found, please tell my mom you are sorry. Tell her I asked to be buried in my red dress, for I will have become just another native statistic."
The text of the book, If I Go Missing, published by Lorimer Children and Teens, comes from excerpts of that letter.
The illustrations to go with the text were drawn by Neal Shannacappo, whose work imagines that a young Indigenous woman has gone missing and the reaction of her friends and police. As well, Jonnie's co-author, Nahanni Shingoose, writes separately about the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women to put Jonnie's work in context.
"I want youth in general to get an Indigenous person's perspective — that is the goal," Jonnie said.
"It has always been about starting a conversation. That's the goal of the book too."
As for what Jonnie is doing now, she graduated from high school last year and is now at the University of Winnipeg working on a degree in bio-chemistry.
"My goal is to get into medical school," she said. "I've wanted to be a doctor since I was four years old. I've always been wanting to help people.
"For now, I'm trying to do my best."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.