Nfld. & Labrador

Slain woman Chantel John inspires St. John's songwriter

Chantel John was killed in Conne River on Jan. 9.

Colin Harris wrote Indigenous Princess in the weeks after the Conne River woman's death

Chantel John was 28 years old when she died in January. (Submitted)

In the weeks after Chantel John was killed in her community of Conne River, an artist more than 500 kilometres away felt compelled to put pen to paper. 

Indigenous Princess begins with soft melodic guitar as Colin Harris sings about the iconic red dress, symbolizing Canada's murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. 

"It's a bit of a heartbreaker," said Harris.

"It's a bit of a call to action for us all to change our attitude toward our relationships with our Indigenous communities."

Following John's death, Colin Harris was inspired to write a song about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Paula Gale/CBC)

Harris said his interest in the history of Indigenous communities began when he was in school and learned about the extinction of the Beothuk. 

"We wiped out the Beothuk, and I've always carried a bit of guilt and regret about that," he said.

'So close to home'

John, 28, was killed in Conne River on Jan. 9 in what the Miawpukek First Nation called "a horrible act of violence."

Her death hit Harris hard, he said.

"just because it was so close to home, reality set in," he said, adding that he felt something should be said about it.

It took Harris 16 days after her death to write the song, but nearly a year to release it. 

"I didn't want to hurt anybody who was already going through a lot of pain but I think the message had to be put forth," Harris told CBC Radio's Weekend AM.

The fact he's a white man singing a song about Indigenous women isn't lost on Harris, but he sees it as an act of solidarity, and felt that to not release the song would be worse. 

Meanwhile, John's former partner, Kirk Keeping, 35, has been charged with second-degree murder. A preliminary inquiry to determine if there's enough evidence to go to trial is expected to continue in December.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Weekend AM