Acclaimed Inuk singer Kelly Fraser was 'fiercely open with her fans,' says family

Kelly Fraser, the 26-year-old Inuk musician who died last week in Winnipeg, had hoped sharing her struggles would let others know they're not alone, her family said Monday.

Family confirms the 26-year-old, who was from Nunavut and had been living in Winnipeg, died by suicide

Kelly Fraser 'was an incredibly kind person who gave so much of herself to help others,' the family of the Inuk musician said Monday. (Kitra Cahana photo/Submitted by Hitmakerz)

Kelly Fraser, the beloved Inuk singer-songwriter from Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, was an "incredibly kind person" and "fiercely open with her fans" in the hope sharing her struggles would help them know they're not alone, her family said in a statement Monday morning.

Fraser, 26, died by suicide Christmas Eve in Winnipeg, where she had been living, her family confirmed.

"Kelly suffered from PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] for many years as a result of childhood traumas, racism and persistent cyberbullying," reads the written statement from Fraser's mother and six siblings. "She was actively seeking help and spoke openly about her personal challenges online and through her journey."

Fraser had been playing music since age 11 and gained fame in 2013, when her Inuktitut rendition of Rihanna's song Diamonds went viral. Her second album, Sedna, was nominated for a Juno Award in 2018, and in 2019, Fraser won an Indspire Award, which honours the outstanding achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. 

Beyond music, the Juno-nominated musician used her celebrity platform to promote Inuit rights and speak out against the harms of colonization and stereotyping.

Fraser "gave so much of herself to help others," said her family.

"Kelly fought so hard to be well. We know that she would want us all to continue to do our very best to take care of ourselves," reads the Monday statement. "We are still in complete shock and our hearts bleed for our sister. Let us celebrate Kelly's generosity, honesty, passion and love of life."

The family said it wouldn't speak further about the circumstances surrounding Fraser's death and has asked for privacy. Memorials will be held in Winnipeg and Iqaluit. 

Fraser had been playing music since age 11 and gained fame in 2013, when her Inuktitut rendition of Rihanna’s song Diamonds went viral. She is pictured here with producer Thor Simonsen. (Kitra Cahana photo/Submitted by Hitmakerz)

Her impact will be felt for years, producer says

Friend and colleague Thor Simonsen says Fraser fought hard for her music, health and home. 

"She always used her music to fight for Inuit, for hunting rights, for opportunities for Inuit," said the producer, who works with Nunavut musicians. 

The duo worked on Sedna over the course of a week in B.C.

In Nunavut, they toured communities to run music and language workshops with youth.  

Simonsen said he watched Fraser bring change to others. 

"Especially young Inuit girls," he said. "They'd be looking up at Kelly, and I could see the awe, that this was possible."

Behind the scenes, Fraser would attend meetings with politicians and officials to advocate for Inuit communities.  

"I would watch her convince them. To tell the story effectively," he said. "Her impact as an advocate is going to be felt for years." 

In September 2018, CBC released a documentary about the Inuit artist titled Kelly Fraser: Fight for the Rights as part of The National's series Seen & Heard: Intimate stories of extraordinary lives.

Watch the documentary:

Where to get help

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

Read the full statement from the family below:

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With files from Sidney Cohen and Beth Brown