NEWS
05/11/2017 12:37 EDT | Updated 05/14/2017 09:05 EDT

Final remains of murdered aboriginal woman returned to family after eight years

HALIFAX — The final remains of a murdered Mi'kmaq woman have been returned to her family, eight years after Tanya Brooks' body was found outside a Halifax school.

Brooks' sister Vanessa Brooks, 43, said police had withheld her brain as part of the ongoing investigation into the still-unsolved murder.

She said it was returned to the family Wednesday, and a smudging ceremony was conducted with investigators and members of victim services and the medical examiner's office.

"I don't think there's any way that I can possibly articulate just how monumental this is ... to our family," she said at Halifax police headquarters on Thursday, eight years to the day after her older sister's body was discovered nearby.

Reading from a statement on behalf of her family, Brooks said it was important that her sister be buried "whole," but she stressed that they also did not want the remains returned if it was going to jeopardize the investigation.

"In Mi'kmaq culture, in order for our spirits to rest, our whole body needs to be as one," she said, choking back tears and clutching a feather in her right hand.

"With yesterday’s events, Tanya is whole again, which was our mother’s last wish before her death in September 2015. On behalf of our mother, it’s an honour to have Tanya complete so that she can return home (to) be laid to rest and our family can begin to heal."

Investigators did not say why Tanya Brooks' brain was withheld for eight years.

The 36-year-old woman was found in a trench along the side of St. Pat's Alexandra Elementary School on May 11, 2009.

Police say she was known in the area and they were able to trace her movements until about 9 p.m. the night before, when she left police headquarters on Gottingen Street, near the school.

Investigators say they believe Brooks knew her assailant and that there are witnesses who have not yet come forward.

Vanessa Brooks pleaded for those witnesses to "break your silence."

"We appeal to them to do the right thing. Please," she said, pausing to compose herself. "We hope that laying Tanya to rest in the weeks ahead might also be the motivation needed to give someone the courage to come forward to the police."

Brooks said her sister will be buried with her mother. She was a mother, daughter, sister, aunt and friend, her sister added.

"She was artistic. She had a very beautiful gift of drawing that her son has inherited," said Brooks, looking towards her sister's 15-year-old son, Qualin Brooks.

"She had the gift of poetry. She was kind. She would give the shirt off her back if she felt you needed it more than she did."

Brooks also praised investigators and victim services for their work.

"Our family is proof that a strong, respectful relationship can exist between the family of a murdered indigenous woman, the police and other key players in an investigation into your loved one's murder or missing person case," she said.

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