'Communal need for healing' after boy's death, Winnipeg mother says

A family advocate and "nurturer" is calling for grieving families to rally together and heal after the homicide of Hunter Straight-Smith.

Advocate calls for 'protection for those who are innocent' after homicide of Hunter Straight-Smith

Jennifer Spence-Clarke says grieving 'nurturers' gathered together in an effort to heal each other and the community. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

As I typed this, I was preparing to head to a gathering in honour of a little boy, his mother's only child, who was taken from his family.

Little Hunter Straight-Smith left us on Nov. 2, 2019, at 4:10 p.m., a victim of domestic violence at just three years of age.

As a nurturer and mother, I feel like we cannot help but be moved by this tragic outcome for Hunter. As a collective community who prayed hard, we felt so deeply for this family.

The communal need for healing was felt by many across this entire country and beyond, and so we gathered.

Youth, adults and elders laid gifts and donations beside a tree in front of the Winnipeg home where Hunter Straight-Smith, 3, was stabbed. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

I am reflective as I think about the events of the last several days.

I think about Halloween, a time when children get to adorn themselves in cute costumes and have a few hours of adventure, gathering treats from neighbours and enjoying the spoils of the fun.

I think of my little ones who went trick-or-treating with my husband and I, which resulted in some decent candy and a sense of pride in their annual outing with their parents.

We gathered to pray not just for healing, but also for the outcry of justice- Jennifer Spence-Clarke

It occurred to me, as we walked home with our little ones, just how blessed we were to spend this time together as a family.

I thought about how sombre this evening was because of the little three-year-old boy laying in his hospital bed when he should have been out with his family, enjoying the tricks and treats as most of the city's children were.

As I tucked my babies into their beds that night, I made some simple prayers, but the most important one that night was for Hunter to fight for his life.

I also prayed that if this was his time to pass away, that he be guided back home to his ancestors in the spirit world.

And as difficult as it has been in this last week of tragedy, I asked for the wisdom to know how to navigate the movement toward the inevitable outcome.

When Hunter did pass away, it left our city with so many emotions. Some raw, some angry and some pitiful. There were some emotions that cannot be explained and some thoughts of what might have been … if only. Those thoughts linger in the thick, mournful air. 

I carry hope in my heart that Hunter did not die in vain- Jennifer Spence-Clarke

Because of these emotions, we gathered together to find some peace in our broken hearts, and to help put the shattered heart of a mother back together.

We gathered to pray not just for healing but also for the outcry of justice, and to demand change.

We need changes to systems that affect the way family violence is addressed, and protection for those who are innocent, but impacted by domestic violence.

It was a heavy day as we armed ourselves with our sacred drums, songs and prayers as well as strength to hold this family up as they made final preparations for their loved one.  

Looking back on this night, I am deeply appreciative of all the ways in which community rallied around this family.

I carry hope in my heart that Hunter did not die in vain, and that his homicide really will be the catalyst for change we desperately need — for the children who are innocent little ones and who deserve healthy families.

Hunter deserved to be happy and healthy. We should never have to gather and unload the vigil vault for another innocent child, taken before their time.

This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Jennifer Spence-Clarke

Community activist

Jennifer Spence-Clarke is a mother, grandmother, grassroots community activist and Ogijiitaa-Ikwe, who protects the lands, the waters, the unborn, and who loves her community.