‘He always wanted to be somebody," Verle Bushie says of her son, Bradden. "He always wanted to help somebody that needed help. He always wanted to solve problems and help out the people."
Bradden Bushie’s parents last saw him Nov. 16, 2013, when he was just 18 years old.
Verle recalls last speaking to him over the phone — he called every night — when he promised he would be home to Poplar River First Nation in just three months time.
"What happened to three months?" she asks now. "It’s been over seven years already."
In the years since their son went missing, Verle, 52, and husband Bradley, 59, have remained faithful; they believe their son will come home to them one day. Meantime, they steadily work to ensure missing and murdered Indigenous men and boys are not forgotten.
"It’s been difficult years and difficult months and days but we keep breathing every day," Bradley says on a phone call from Poplar River. "As long as we can move around, we can still look for him."
In February 2016 and March 2020, the couple walked from their home community to Winnipeg, some 400 kilometres south, to raise awareness of their son.
This year, Bradley says: "It was time we asked the water for all the loved ones that are lost."
Between Aug. 25 and Sept. 13, the couple paddled an aluminum canoe — with MMIMB painted in red on its side — more than 350 km down Lake Winnipeg and the Red River to Oodena Circle at The Forks in honour of their son.
The three-week journey saw the Bushies carve through heavy winds, choppy waves and rain, and sail smoothly over water still as glass. Through it all, Bradley says, they cried, paddled, and clung tightly to thoughts of Bradden.
"Our son, and all the loved ones that are missing: that’s what kept us pushing every day," he says. "You just keep pushing and every stroke, all the way, we were just thinking maybe we’ll find something."
Over the years, the family has paid close attention to news reports in hopes he will be found. Though there have not been developments in the case, they continue holding faith he will be brought home.
Every day is a struggle, Bradley says. Every day is punctuated by "sadness and grief" as they wait for the search to come to an end.
It’s a sadness felt by all families whose lost loved ones have not come home, he says.
As the Bushies’ journey came to an end last week, they were greeted by supporters at The Forks who helped them from their canoe and joined them in a march from the downtown park to the steps of the Manitoba legislature.
"People were waiting for us. It was good to see families there supporting us," Verle says. "It came to my mind right away that they were hearing us."
Verle adds it was "emotional" to walk with supporters on the final leg of the journey; Bradley says a rise in walks and marches for missing relatives has been inspirational.
"The message is out already, people are walking," he says. "You have to have faith and patience. I’m still waiting. Someday, eventually, he’ll come home; it’s just a matter of time."
The Bushies hope their journey will shed light on the plight of so many families whose relatives have not seen justice, says Verle.
"There is nothing being done about them," she says, adding she’s never hesitated to make the walks and canoe trips to bring awareness to the issue.
"Now I’m just going to be waiting for answers. If nothing goes on differently, maybe I’ll just start walking again."
Bradden Bushie was last seen in the West Broadway area of Winnipeg. He is described as 5-11, approximately 150 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Winnipeg Police Service missing persons unit at 204-986-6250.
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.