London

'She's gone too soon': Oneida honours Debra Chrisjohn in MMIWG vigil

The late 39-year-old mother of 11 died while in police custody back in 2016. A London police officer is scheduled to appear in court later this month to answer to charges related to her death.

The Oneida woman died back in 2016 while in police custody

Community members marched to a local graveyard. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Debra Chrisjohn was always laughing, and she knew just the trick to make those around her crack up along with her.

The Oneida Nation of the Thames woman would often bust out in the well-known "Carlton dance" from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which especially made her younger sister Cindy howl.

Chrisjohn fuelled her tight-knit community south of London with her positive and radiant energy.

But instead of looking forward to jokes shared over Thanksgiving dinner, Cindy stood next to her sister's grave at the First Nation on Thursday, as her community honoured Canada's missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Cindy Chrisjohn remembered her sister who died in 2016. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

"I can't believe that she's gone. She's gone too soon. It hurt the family a lot... She left too much behind," said Cindy.

The late 39-year-old mother of 11 died while in police custody back in 2016. A London police officer is scheduled to appear in court later this month to answer to charges related to her death.

"She's supposed to be here still."

"But, now that she's gone, it's like the light is out."

Court date looms

Two years ago last month, police were called to the area of Trafalgar Street and Highbury Avenue North in east London. There were reports of a woman obstructing traffic.

The community gathered Thursday to honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Chrisjohn was arrested and transferred to an OPP detachment. She was later sent to a hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Two police officials were initially charged in relation to her death.

Last year, charges against one OPP constable were dropped.

However, London police Const. Nicholas Doering faces charges of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life. His preliminary hearing is scheduled to begin on Oct. 29.

Community members lit lanterns on Thursday. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

"[I want] some accountability this time for us, our people. We've been let down too many times. That's all I want, justice for my sister," said Cindy.

Sisters in Spirit

It was the first annual Sisters in Spirit vigil held on Oneida.

The commemoration was part of a series of vigils that happened across the country.

Community members gathered by Debra Chrisjohn's grave pictured here. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Community members gathered at the First Nation's family centre before heading over to a nearby graveyard to pay respects.

"We are all sisters here. We are all connected. We are not our traumas," shared community member Yeyatalunyuhe George, adding that she thinks media and members of the public should focus on the "good" about Chrisjohn, and other women who have gone missing or have been murdered.

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