Cyril Weenusk was a soft-spoken, hard-working firefighter and father of four from Oxford House, Man., who came to Winnipeg to help his sick father only to be killed, says his cousin, Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.
North Wilson, whose organization represents northern Manitoba First Nations, said she was devastated when she learned her second cousin was beaten to death on Tuesday.
"I was sick," she said in an interview Thursday.
"It's easier when you don't know directly the people that are affected. It's still very hard, but it's even harder when you know that someone in your own family's been affected by violence in the community and violence in the city."
Weenusk, 26, died after he was attacked on Portage Avenue and Donald Street shortly before 4 a.m. Tuesday.
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Winnipeg police are looking for at least three suspects in what they described as a "chance encounter" with a group of people Weenusk did not know.
'He rarely left his dad's side. Unfortunately, the moment he did, he was taken off the streets like that' - Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson, Cyril Weenusk's cousin
North Wilson said Weenusk lived on Bunibonibee Cree Nation in Oxford House. He did not travel to Winnipeg often, but came to the city to accompany his father, who has cancer, to chemotherapy and dialysis treatments, she said.
"The whole family's sitting with his dad in the hotel, and he just looks out his window and hoping that for some reason that there was a mistake and that he'd be home anytime and that he'd walk through the door," North Wilson said.
"He was hoping against hope that it wasn't true because he was always there. He rarely left his dad's side. Unfortunately, the moment he did, he was taken off the streets like that."
'He loved his family'
Weenusk leaves behind a family and many loved ones, said North Wilson, who described her cousin as a "very soft-spoken, very kind person."
"He was a very, very loving man and he loved his family," she said.
"He had four kids and a common-law girlfriend and a brother and sister and a dad who were very close, because his mom passed away a while ago."
Weenusk and his brother worked on a provincial firefighting crew in the summer, and he also hunted and fished to support his family, North Wilson said.
"He was one of the hard workers," she said.
'He was just a young guy that, you know, he had a lot of pride in himself' - Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson
"He was just a young guy that, you know, he had a lot of pride in himself. He loved to hunt and fish, so he was a regular Indigenous man living on reserve and making the most out of what he had."
Weenusk's family was devastated to see he was so brutally beaten dental records were needed to identify him, she said. His body will be flown back to Oxford House for the funeral.
North Wilson said more often than not, Indigenous people are met with violence when they come to the city, and her organization has been working to address the various factors involved.
"I try very hard myself to work to address some of these things. This time around, it feels like it's way too close to home, and it's easy to give up," she said.
"It's easy to give up hope, but you can't. It's just impossible."