The search team in Lac La Ronge for Jim Brady and Abbie Halkett. From left to right: Michael Nest, Deanna Reder, Eric Bell, Thompson Mckenzie and Stanley Roberts.

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Search for missing Indigenous leaders leads to archives

January 08, 2020
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By Ian Bryce

In June 1967, Métis leader Jim Brady and Cree councilor Abbie Halkett went on a prospecting trip in northern Saskatchewan by Lower Foster Lake. They vanished without a trace. With many people suspecting murder, the mystery of Brady’s and Halkett’s disappearance continues to concern northern Saskatchewan’s Indigenous community 52 years later.

The mystery also occupies SFU First Nations Studies Chair Deanna Reder—a specialist in Indigenous literature and founding member of The People and The Text, an Indigenous literary archive.

As part of the President’s Faculty Lecture Series on Wednesday, Jan. 15, Reder will speak about Brady’s and Halkett’s disappearance, its impact on the community and her connection to them. She will also discuss Brady as a writer, along with Cree and Métis storytelling traditions and the responsibility of storytellers and story recipients.

“These are people who have been remembered by their families and community but mainstream Canada has not remembered them,” says Reder. “Both were leaders in their community and for them to be forgotten is its own kind of tragedy.”

Reder’s connection to the mystery is personal: her uncle was a family friend of Brady and her grandmother healed Halkett from blindness when he was a young man. Three years ago, Reder’s uncle asked for her help in finding their bodies.

Joining the search was her cousin Eric Bell, the owner of La Ronge Emergency Medical Services and a Lac La Ronge Indian Band member, as well as Michael Nest, a scholar who researches corruption in the mining industry and beyond. Together, the team traced prospecting archives, interviewed community members and generated significant leads to find the missing bodies.

Reder’s research also lead her to the Glenbow Archives where she learned of Brady’s extensive library, which included his unpublished literary work. This has been a significant addition to The People and the Text project.

“Every time you hear a story there are these layers underneath it but what makes it Cree is the context—the relatives and connections that you have,” says Reder. “This is a story that’s going to be retold and have an impact on future generations.”

While the reasons for their disappearance remain unanswered, Reder says that learning of Brady and Halkett’s past went beyond solving a mystery.

“The end isn’t to find the answer—the end is to respect all of the relationships as we honour the fact that Brady and Halkett have been missed not just by their families but by northern Saskatchewan.”

Reder will give her lecture “The Obligations of Stories: Missing Jim Brady and Abbie Halkett” at SFU’s Vancouver campus on Wednesday, Jan. 15. The lecture is free with registration.

Learn more about The People and the Text.