Manitoba

'She was fierce': Family, friends and fans honour Kelly Fraser at Inuk musician's vigil

Hundreds of supporters gathered around family and friends at The Forks for a vigil for Kelly Fraser, a singer-songwriter from Nunavut who died by suicide on Christmas Eve in Winnipeg.

Promoting Inuit culture and language key driving force of Fraser's work, says sister

A close friend holds up a poster signed by community members and supporters in memory of Kelly Fraser. (Dana Hatherly/CBC)

Hundreds of supporters surrounded Kelly Fraser's family and friends as the sun set over Oodena Circle on Treaty 1 Territory to celebrate her life and reflect on the mark she left on people's hearts and in their minds.

A candlelight vigil held on Saturday evening in Winnipeg for the Juno-nominated Inuk singer-songwriter opened with prayers while a sacred fire burned at the centre of the circle.

Fraser, 26, died by suicide in the city on Christmas Eve. Her death has sparked renewed calls for better mental health and social services for Inuit, First Nations and Métis people who have endured centuries of colonization followed by years of childhood pain and trauma.

Fraser's family said she was a bright and bubbly social butterfly who was outspoken about inter-generational struggles and her own suffering in the hopes of helping others.

"My baby sister was very fierce and stubborn at the same time," Maxine Angoo, 33, said.

A young woman with a Nunavut flag draped over her shoulders observes a community vigil for Kelly Fraser, who grew up in the Inuit homelands before she died by suicide in Winnipeg. (Dana Hatherly/CBC)

Fraser used her platform to speak out against stereotyping and racism.

"She was struggling with a lot of demons," Angoo said.

Drumming, singing and smudging — along with different items people brought with them — provided a multitude of ways for community members to seek healing.

Fraser had been living with her older sister in Winnipeg after relocating from Nunavut, where they both grew up.

Angoo said her younger sister wanted people to see and hear everything good about her life, language and culture.

"She just wanted to be happy," Angoo said.

Supporters, friends and family, including Maxine Angoo, centre, embrace each other during a vigil for Kelly Fraser. (Dana Hatherly/CBC)

For Angoo, the loss of her sister is a reminder to return to tradition. 

"That was what she fought for."

Promoting Inuit culture and language revitalization was a key driving force in Fraser's music and art. She spoke Inuktitut with her younger family members, her sister said.

A drumming group performs during a community vigil for Kelly Fraser, who was nominated for a Juno award before she died. (Dana Hatherly/CBC)

Jade Harper of Manitoba Music spoke about the mark Fraser left on the music scene — on and off stage across Turtle Island and around the world.

"This is a really really big loss for our communities," Harper said.

"I just want to emphasize how incredibly talented that Kelly was, and she was fierce, and nothing ever stopped her."

Jade Harper of Manitoba Music spoke about Kelly Fraser's musical legacy in the province and beyond. (Travis Golby/CBC)

A teacher at heart, Fraser shared her love for music and her drum with everyone who wanted to hear it.

In honour of his lost friend, River Steele, who helped organize the vigil, wore a hat that Fraser brought back from Paris as a gift.

"She was a very powerful person," Steele said.

"She was very unapologetic with how she acknowledged her emotions and how she processed things."

He said his friend would often confront those emotions.

River Steele, a close family friend, helped organize the event in honour of Kelly Fraser. (Travis Goldby/CBC)

Now it is important for the community to reflect on the struggles outlined by her death and process those feelings in a healthy way.

Steele expressed thanks to those who showed up, as well as the community at-large who couldn't be there, and expressed condolences to survivors.

WATCH | Family speaks out for the first time about Kelly Fraser's death:

Hundreds of supporters gathered around Kelly Fraser's family and friends as the sun set over Oodena Celebration Circle on Treaty 1 Territory to celebrate the beloved Inuk singer and songwriter's life. 2:20

Where to get help

If you're worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them about it, the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention says.