'I can't even believe he's dead': Vigil honours Brady Francis, Tina Fontaine, Colten Boushie

People held each other, often crying, as a series of First Nations and Inuit people told of their lives dealing with daily racism and the repeated violent deaths of friends and family.

Leaders say Canada's justice system needs to do more to protect Indigenous people across Canada

More than 50 people attended a vigil in honour of Brady Francis, 22, Tina Fontaine,15. and Colten Boushie,22, at Mount Allison University last month. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Many people fought back tears as they gathered inside Sackville's Mount Allison University, sharing their grief over the deaths of three young Indigenous people from across Canada, including New Brunswick.

The vigil was held Tuesday night in memory of Brady Francis, 22, an Elsipogtog First Nation man who was struck and killed in a hit-and-run at the end of February. 

The vigil also honoured Manitoba's Tina Fontaine, who was just 15 when her body was found in Winnipeg's Red River, wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down with rocks in August 2014.

People were also there to remember Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old who was shot on a rural Saskatchewan farmyard in August 2016.

"You didn't deserve to be shot, you didn't deserve to be left in a bag, you didn't deserve to be left on the side of the road," shouted Maisyn Sock of Eskasoni First Nation in Nova Scotia. 

Maisyn Sock of Eskasoni First Nation in Nova Scotia, pleaded for justice in Brady Francis's death. The Elsipogtog First Nation man was killed in a hit-and-run at the end of February in eastern New Brunswick. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

During the vigil, Sock repeatedly called for justice following Francis's death, who was one of her close friends.  

"I cared about Brady a lot," Sock told a crowd of about 50 people, with tears streaming down her face. 

"I can't even believe he's dead. It's been 24 days and I still can't believe he's dead." 

Racism stands out like 'a neon light'

Many cried openly, as several Indigenous people shared their experiences with living in fear of dying violent deaths or losing family and friends too soon. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Sock's pleas were accompanied by several others, who shared stories of racism, the dangers of living on reserve and as an Indigenous woman, the constant fear of being murdered or to go missing.

"A lot of people don't see it," said JJ Bear, who helped host the vigil with traditional song and prayer.

"But we see it like a neon light and that's called racism." 

JJ Bear helped host the vigil, offering prayer, song and his own experiences battling with racism. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Bear spoke at length about issues Indigenous people face on a regular basis and the lack of knowledge most Canadians have in comprehending how these communities are suffering. 

"They don't understand where we come from, what has happened to our people," he said. 

A time to listen 

The evening included repeated calls for change to Canada's justice system, specifically for more representation from Indigenous people.

It was also a chance to help non-Indigenous people understand challenges Indigenous people face in New Brunswick and across the country.

"Tonight, we should highlight some of those things people should be doing right now," said Emma Hassencahl-Perley, the Indigenous affairs co-ordinator at Mount Allison University.

"Whether that's listening, or being upset with us [or] demanding justice. Those are kind of immediate things that should happen right now." 

Emma Hassencahl-Perley of Tobique First Nation and the Indigenous affairs co-ordinator at Mount Allison University, says the vigil was a platform for people to share how they're feeling and for those outside Indigenous communities to listen. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Many in the crowd wore white sweatshirts displaying Brady Francis's face with "#JusticeforBrady" printed on the front. 

Police have not yet made an arrest following Francis's death, but RCMP have recently released photographs of a pickup truck suspected in the Saint-Charles hit-and-run last month. 

As a result, people like Doreen Richards attended the vigil to find peace with so many unanswered questions.

"There are people who have been murdered and people have been acquitted," she said.

"For me, I had to come so that I would be part of the healing."

Doreen Richard said it was important for her to attend Tuesday night's vigil in order to be a part of the healing in a hurting community. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

About the Author

Shane Fowler

Reporter

Shane Fowler has been a CBC journalist based in Fredericton since 2013.