11/02/2014 11:24 EST | Updated 01/02/2015 05:59 EST

First Nations take action in alleged killings of 3 aboriginal boys, 50 years ago

Smoke from a sacred fire rose above the snow-covered fields of an farm near Pefferlaw, Ontario. Its a place where three young aboriginal boys are said to have been murdered more than 50 years ago at the hands of a farmer.

That farmer was Glenna Mae Breckenridge's father. This was her home, about an hour north of Toronto, where she recounts her memories of his murderous actions without consequence. The three boys were never reported missing. Police never made any arrests. Their bodies, Breckenridge says, are buried on the property but have never been exhumed.

The weight of witnessing the killings has hung heavy on Breckenridge. But on Saturday, the load shifted, as nearly a dozen people gathered at the farm for a feast and ceremony — offering peace to the spirits of the boys and thanks to Breckenridge for carrying their story.

“We saw a hawk come over the gathering and to us, we take that as affirmation that spiritual work we were doing was being acknowledged,” said Becky Big Canoe, a member of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation and one of the organizers of the event.

The ceremony was a first for Breckenridge, now in her late 60s.

“The spirit and the sense of loss was definitely there. It helped me understand from their perspective what it’s like to lose one of their peoples,” she said.

Breckenridge’s story first aired as a documentary on CBC’s The National in September. It sent ripples of shock through First Nations, especially the communities that were potentially once home to the three boys.

Members of several First Nations came together to take action. Saturday’s ceremony was just one part of their ongoing efforts.

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“Right away our chief and council started investigating,” said Big Canoe.

“They looked through our records and we’re pretty sure that these boys weren’t from our First Nation. So that ends there. But they could have been from any of our sister First Nations in southern Ontario, even northern Ontario, we really don’t know.”

Glenna Mae’s memories of murder

Childhood was difficult for Glenna Mae Breckenridge. It was marred by her father’s physical and sexual abuse. But one day, in the summer of 1955, she says a young farmhand tried to stop it.

When he tried to intervene, Breckenridge says her father murdered him with a pitchfork.

And then, when friends of the boy came looking for him the next day, Breckenridge says her father pulled out his shotgun and murdered them too.

Three teenage boys, all aboriginal, killed over the span of two days.

Their bodies were buried on the farm. Breckenridge says she knows this because her father forced her to watch, and told her she was never to speak of it to anyone.

Decades later, in the 1990s, she went to police and reported what she witnessed as a young girl. Her father was questioned and denied the allegations. He has since died.

Police never did any excavation work to look for remains. But an investigation by CBC, using state-of-the-art equipment, showed there may in fact be three bodies buried beneath the foundation of the barn, exactly where Breckenridge remembered them to be.  

After the documentary aired, CBC's Paul Hunter spoke to police, who said homicide investigations are never closed. Hunter said police told him they want to look into the recent findings, compare it with where they looked and consider whether additional steps should be taken. 

Seeking justice for the 'lost boys'

On Saturday, the barn stood intact, serving as a backdrop to the ceremony and a reminder to many there is still work to be done.

If the bodies are in fact there, First Nations leaders would like to have them exhumed so the boys can be given a proper burial. To make this happen, they’re advocating for police to reactivate the case. 

Finding out who the boys were is perhaps a more difficult task.

Becky Big Canoe says First Nations have been asking members to think back to 1955, to see if anyone knows who the teenagers might have been.

At this point, there are no leads.

Big Canoe points out that the residential school system could be to blame for why there was no report about a trio of missing boys all those years ago.

“We’d lose the children to the school and sometimes they didn’t come home. So that’s why there was probably no missing persons reports because at an early age they were taken and that might be the last time you see them.”

In the case of the three boys and the Breckenridge farm, Glenna Mae remembers all too well the last time she saw them.

“I owe my life to those three boys,” she said.

Where things go from here is unclear. Breckenridge says in some ways, Saturday’s ceremony offered a way for her to pass the baton.

“I'm kind of at the end of the story, when others are just at the beginning."