Manitoba

Two-spirit advocate aims to fight fear with spirituality as search for suspects continues in northern Manitoba

Brielle Beardy-Linklater is hoping to bring comfort and spiritual support to people in a northern Manitoba First Nation who are struggling as they watch a massive police hunt for two B.C. homicide suspects unfold in their community.

Brielle Beardy-Linklater plans prayer, workshops in Fox Lake amid hunt for B.C. homicide suspects

There's a lot of fear right now in Fox Lake, says Brielle Beardy-Linklater, but 'people will get through this by staying connected, by reaching out to each other' and by 'practising community values.' (Austin Grabish/CBC)

A two-spirit education and outreach co-ordinator is hoping to bring comfort and spiritual support to people in a northern Manitoba First Nation who are struggling as they watch a massive police hunt for two B.C. homicide suspects unfold in their community.

"Since the two men have entered this region and territory, it's brought a lot of fear into the minds and souls of the community members here in northern Manitoba," Brielle Beardy-Linklater, a Cree woman who works with the Winnipeg-based Rainbow Resource Centre, told CBC News.

Beardy-Linklater, who is originally from northern Manitoba, is in Fox Lake Cree Nation for workshops focused on traditional teachings. The community is about a 45-minute drive from the town of Gillam, about 740 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

Beardy-Linklater had planned her trip to the community before the hunt for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, began in the area.

The two men are suspects in the shooting deaths of Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, and his American girlfriend, 24-year-old Chynna Deese, in northern B.C. Their bodies were found on July 15.

McLeod and Schmegelsky have also been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Leonard Dyck, a sessional instructor at the University of British Columbia, whose body was found days later near Dease Lake.

Police officers inspect the back of a truck at a checkpoint near Gillam, Man., on Thursday. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

On Thursday, RCMP said there have been two confirmed sightings of the suspects near Gillam, and police believe the two are still in the area.

With residents urged to take precautions and be alert, Beardy-Linklater is hoping to lend a helping spiritual hand to those who live in Fox Lake. The First Nation has locked its band office and some people are not leaving their homes or letting their children play outside.

CBC saw multiple RCMP officers swoop into the small community, where residents estimate only a few hundred people live, on Thursday. Police officers were seen searching rail tracks, before going down to a nearby river and checking out an abandoned building.

The area has many old campsites that could serve as hiding spots and provide shelter for the suspects, who would have endured heavy rain Thursday night in the swampy bush, if they are indeed still hiding in the area.

There was also a police presence around a train that rolled into Gillam on Friday morning.

RCMP have brought in a helicopter, a drone, and crisis negotiators to help in the search and have set up multiple checkpoints around the Gillam area. 

Fox Lake residents say they never have seen something like this unfold in their tiny community.

John Peters says while media coverage of the hunt for the B.C. suspects is necessary, it also stokes fear in the small community. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

"This is a first for me in my 25 years," said Fox Lake resident John Peters. He's planning a community gathering over the next couple of days to combat fear that is building up in the community.

Some of that fear, he noted, comes as a result of the multiple international news crews who are now in northern Manitoba to cover the story.

"Even though the media is covering very necessary stuff, it's bringing on a lot of unnecessary fear, and I think sometimes that's what media coverage can do in communities."

Trust will fight fear: advocate

Beardy-Linklater said Indigenous communities in northern Manitoba are strong and Fox Lake will get through this. She's using prayer and traditional teachings and reminding people to be gentle and check on one another.

"It's just about connecting to our surroundings. The prayer is really just about putting out good things, good thoughts and really just passing it along and carrying that with you," she said. "People will get through this by staying connected, by reaching out to each other and by … practising community values."

It will be essential for people to "not buy into the fear and to have trust," she said.

Police warn that anyone who has seen McLeod or Schmegelsky should not approach the men, but rather call RCMP immediately.

Calling 911 does not work in many parts of northern Manitoba, but RCMP in Gillam can be reached at 204-652-2200. In Thompson, Man., RCMP can be reached at 204-677-6911.

About the Author

​Austin Grabish started reporting when he was young, landing his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca