Ojibway elder gifts teepee to homeless in honour of slain nephew

An Ojibway man is honouring his nephew, who was killed in October in Winnipeg, by providing shelter to the homeless.

Teepee to be called Matthew's Place in memory of Matthew Allan Sutherland

Three men's support groups helped set up a tepee, to be known as Matthew's Place, donated by the Richard family in memory of Matthew Allan Sutherland. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

An Ojibway man is honouring his nephew who was killed in October in Winnipeg by providing shelter to the homeless community.

Walter Richard erected his family's sundance ceremony teepee on Sunday in a small field on Henry Avenue near the Disraeli Bridge.

He's calling it Matthew's Place, in honour of his 28-year-old nephew, Matthew Allen Sutherland, who was killed on October 31. He had been a part of the homeless community and was accessing services from the surrounding agencies, trying to get sober.  
Matthew Sutherland had been accessing the services around Thunderbird House before he was killed. (Submitted by Wally and Melanie Richard)

"He was in touch with me and his auntie and his cousin on a regular basis, just trying to find his way," said Richard. "And, unfortunately, he got killed before he could."

On Oct. 31, his 28-year-old nephew was found critically hurt outside a home in the city's West End, according to Winnipeg police. He was rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead. 

Michael Alexander Spence, 32, has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with Sutherland's death. 

Richard, who is originally from the Pine Creek First Nation, teamed up with three men's support groups, Healing Together, Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin and Thunderbird House, to set up the traditional structure. The groups said they will work together to keep the fire burning and maintain the teepee. 

"Homelessness is a societal issue. It's not an individual issue. So to me, I see society failing them. Not them failing. So we just wanted to step up and help a little, keep them warm in the winter," said Henry McKay, with Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatawin, a group that provides for people in the area and helps them become warriors.

The CBC spoke with several people, living in tents on the field, who said they preferred the freedom and having a place of their own, despite the cold, over staying in a shelter.

"We're hoping that we can find some more and get these teepees erected so that our homeless actually have some place safe to go," said Bentley Dubois, a leader with the mens' support circle, Healing Together.

This is the second teepee built within a week at this location, which has become a temporary homeless community near two shelters.
Walter Richard's family gifted the Sundance teepee in honour of his slain nephew. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

"I like it. It's good that there are … people are coming out and they care. I kinda like it. It makes you feel like you're back  in how we used to live. And that's how I wanna live," said Darren Flett, who lives in a tent on the field.

Richard also brought hot food, warm clothes and coffee for the people living there and the set-up crew, as well as sleeping bags and tarps for shelter.

"I've never seen so much people care since I've been down here. This is lots. This is really lots. Even I'm happy because everyone's getting gifts, getting blankets, mitts, food and we're all getting along," said Flett.

I've never seen so much people care since I've been down here:Darren Flett.


Darren Flett, a member of the homeless community living in the area, says the teepee erected on Sunday reminds him of his community's traditions. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Richard says it's important that the teepee is in a central location for those who will use it.

"The Aboriginal building, Manitoba Metis, the Salvation Army, everything's around here. So it's convenient for them."


Ojibway elder gifts teepee to homeless in honour of slain nephew 2:51

In a statement, a spokesperson for the city of Winnipeg wrote it is aware of the two teepees and are working to ensure the safety of all people in and around them.

"We recognize and respect the sacred nature of the teepee and ceremonial significance of activities within it. At this time, for these reasons, we will not be removing them," wrote the spokesperson. 
They added Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Service will do community outreach, identify potential hazards and provide teaching on fire safety.
Betty Richard said she feels healthier after she's spent time inside the teepees. (Walther Bernal/CBC )

Betty Richard, 65, spends much of her time at the site and said the shelter is about healing.

"It'll be nice. I like it. They help you, you go there, and you feel better when you come out from there. Feel better, you're not sick," she said.

Richard hopes the new tent will better serve homeless people and keep them warm, and said any donations of wood, clothing and food are welcome. He plans to leave it up until April.

"We just thought it would go much better if people used it for good. And be able to share it. So that's what we're doing. We're sharing it."

Henry McKay of Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin says he views homelessness as a societal issue. He hopes the teepee will provide stable shelter for the homeless population. (Walter Bernal/CBC)

with files from Erin Brohman