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This article was published 3/7/2009 (3763 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
WINNIPEG — Cherisse Houle tried to turn her life around, but in the end some fear the ways of the street may have caught up to her, adding her name and face to the long list of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Manitoba.
The RCMP said Friday the body of a woman found Thursday in the Rural Municipality of Rosser by a backhoe operator had been identified as Houle. The 17-year-old had been reported missing to Winnipeg police on June 26.
Sources said Houle had an extensive youth criminal record going back at least four years, but had recently enrolled in a program at Ka Ni Kanichihk, a downtown aboriginal counselling and job training service.
Executive director Leslie Spillett confirmed Houle was a participant in one of the programs.
"We are broken-hearted right now," Spillett said, declining to comment. "We need some time to process it."
The RCMP released little information about the discovery of Houle's body, other than to say the cause of death remains undetermined. Her body was found face down in Sturgeon Creek 50 metres from Provincial Road 221 about 16 kilometres west of Winnipeg.
The Winnipeg RCMP serious and major crime units continue to investigate. The central questions are how Houle ended up beyond the outskirts of the city and whom she was with. Anyone with information about Houle on or after June 26 is asked to call the Headingley RCMP detachment at 888-0358 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
Doreen Wolinski lived in a group home with Houle until about two years ago. At the time, Houle was under the care of Child and Family Services, but Wolinski isn't sure if Houle was still a CFS ward at the time of her death.
"I remember Cherisse had a million- dollar smile. It could light up the room," the friend said, distressed over how the body was found. "I don't understand how someone could have done that — she was a little girl."
Friends of Houle said she had been sexually exploited on the street, but was trying to get away from that life.
A woman whose daughter was close to Houle provided a home for the girl for almost a year in 2002.
When they spoke two months ago, Houle told the woman she was no longer working on the streets.
"I told her: 'If you ever need money, if you ever need anything, come and see me,' " the woman recalled, barely containing her tears.
"I said, 'Please don't ever put yourself on the street again.' "
That was the last time the woman spoke with Houle. Friday morning, her own daughter woke the woman up with the news that Houle had been found dead.
"I jumped out of bed and said, 'What are you talking about?' and I started crying," said the woman, who didn't want her name published. "Even now it hurts, you know. That's my baby, even if I didn't give birth to her."
Houle was one of four aboriginal females who were the subject of a news release issued May 25 by the Winnipeg Police Service and Child Find Manitoba. The missing women were highlighted as part of National Missing Children's Day.
Police said at that time that Houle had been missing since May 21 and was last seen in the city's downtown.
Not long after that, Houle returned home but then went missing again. She was last reported missing to the police on June 26.
Winnipeg Police Service spokeswoman Jacqueline Chaput said Friday family members had reported Houle missing several times.
"We've had extensive contact with (Houle) in the past," Chaput said. "She was reported missing on more than one occasion."
Chaput would not say where Houle lived or if she worked in the city's sex trade.
Chaput said investigators from the missing persons unit had looked into Houle's disappearance, adding any information they collected will be turned over to the RCMP.
Angela Roulette, founder of the Women of Mother Earth Network, said Houle's death and other cases demonstrate that not enough is being done to help young aboriginal women escape a world of neglect, violence, crime or drug abuse.
"If it's not something like this, then it's suicide," the Portage la Prairie resident said. "Most people don't want to talk about it. There'll be something in the news today and tomorrow and then it will be forgotten."
Roulette's niece is 18-year-old Jennifer Catcheway, who's been missing since June 19, 2008, which happens to be her birthday.
The Native Women's Association of Canada said in a May report there are 71 aboriginal women who have gone missing or have been murdered in Manitoba since 1980. Most are under the age of 30. Besides Catcheway, also still missing are Claudette Osborne, 21, who disappeared July 24 last year, and Sunshine Wood, who's been missing since Feb. 20, 2004, when she was 16.
The report also said more than two-thirds of the 71 missing women have been found dead and about 25 per cent are still missing. In 45 per cent of the cases where women were found dead, nobody has been charged.
The reported prompted the federal Liberals to call for a national public investigation into the hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.
Winnipeg South Centre MP Anita Neville said if so many women from any other community in Canada had been murdered or gone missing, there would be a huge public outcry.
Roulette said one reason the plight of many aboriginal women isn't taken as seriously as it should be is that many people in the aboriginal community don't care.
"I don't think our leadership is listening," she said. "They're too busy battling each other."
She said the issue should be the most important one for aboriginal people across Canada.
"But I don't think we're doing our responsibility as Indian people," she said.
— With files from Aldo Santin