Ottawa

'Shy, smart and bright' Savanna Pikuyak mourned at candlelight vigil

Choking back tears, neighbours, friends and relatives of 22-year-old Savanna Pikuyak prayed together in front of the home where she was found dead this weekend, just days after she had moved to Ottawa.

22-year-old was allegedly killed by roommate just days after moving to Ottawa

‘This could have been me’: Community gathers to remember Savanna Pikuyak

9 days ago
Duration 0:54
Aliqa Illauq, a teacher at Nunavut Sivuniksavut who attended the vigil, says Savanna Pikuyak’s death is a solemn reminder of the challenges Inuit community members still face when moving to further their education.

Choking back tears, neighbours, friends and family of 22-year old Savanna Pikuyak prayed together in front of the home where she was found dead this weekend, just days after she had moved to Ottawa. 

Mahasi Nateela, a friend of Pikuyak's, arrived with flowers in hand, and laid them down among the candles and cards left in front of the house. Nateela remembered meeting Pikuyak in 2016 at the Northern Youth Abroad program they both participated in.

"She was very smart and bright. She was shy but sarcastic," said Nateela. "She was a great person." 

Pikuyak was a young Inuk woman who left her hometown of Sanirajak, Nvt., to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse by studying at Algonquin College. 

Woman holds bubble tea drink up, smiling.
Savanna Pikuyak, a young Inuk woman from Nunavut, had moved to Ottawa on Thursday to start a program at Algonquin College. (Submitted by Sheba Pikuyak)

That dream was dashed on Sunday morning, when police responded to a 911 call that a woman had been seriously stabbed at 34 Woodvale Green and a man with a knife was still inside the two-storey rowhome in southwest Ottawa. 

Pikuyak was found dead from her injuries, and police suspect was also sexually assaulted, CBC News has learned.

Ottawa police have charged 33-year-old Nikolas Ibey with second-degree murder after he allegedly called police and turned himself in. They arrested him at the home where Pikuyak was found on Sunday.

According to sources, Ibey was her roommate and the two had met only recently through a Facebook rental advertisement he had posted for a room in the home.

Loss devastating for Inuit community

Pikuyak, an active member of her community with a great interest in learning about Inuit culture, attended a Students on Ice educational program for youth in Greenland, as well as Nunavut Sivuniksavut, a post-secondary education program in Ottawa specifically for Inuit youth.

In a Facebook post, Nunavut Sivuniksavut said it was deeply saddened by Pikuyak's death.

"Although she was small in stature, Savanna was a force to be reckoned with," the post read. 

Aliqa Illauq, a teacher at Nunavut Sivuniksavut who attended the vigil, said Pikuyak's loss has been devastating for the community. 

"When one of us gets hurt, we all get hurt," she said. 

Aliqa Illauq is a teacher at Nunavut Sivuniksavut who attended the vigil wearing a red handprint on her face in honour of missing and murdered Indigenous women like Pikuyak. (Avanthika Anand/CBC)

"This was an absolute tragedy, and a great reminder of the oppression and the continued challenges we as Inuit go through just to further our education," Illauq said, adding Inuit have to travel thousands of miles and spend a lot of money to pursue further schooling. 

She added that the housing crisis in Ottawa has disproportionately affected Inuk students who need to seek cheaper housing, putting their safety at risk. 

"There are so many Inuit such as Savanna," she said. 

Pikuyak had rented the $750-room Ibey advertised on Facebook, which noted the home's "close proximity to Algonquin College" as a selling point. 

"This could have been me, this could have been anybody that I know," said Illauq. 

Illauq said that while she doesn't know if the murder was racially motivated, Pikuyak's death is a sore reminder of the importance of raising awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women.

"As an Indigenous woman, but more specifically as an Inuk woman, my chances of surviving in this country lessened the moment I took my first breath," she said. "We need to make sure this doesn't continue so our children have more of a chance than we do."

That's why Illauq wore a red handprint across her face to the vigil.

"I wear this not only for Savanna now … I wear [it] to show that we will not be quiet anymore. We are not going to sit in a corner and be nice little Eskimos where our voices are not going to be heard."

Justice for Savanna

In a statement released Sept. 13, Algonquin College said the college community is also mourning Pikuyak's loss. 

First-year Algonquin College student Hayley Totalik also attended the vigil to honour her friend, who she had been looking forward to hanging out with for the first time in years. The two were supposed to go to school together. 

"I feel heartbroken yet furious," she said. 

Hayley Totalik, left, and Mahasi Nateela were friends of Savanna Pikuyak. (Avanthika Anand/CBC)

"There's just too many Indigenous women taken from us, from our families, from our communities."

A red dress now hangs in front of the home in honour of missing and murdered Indigenous women, along with an orange T-shirt that reads #JusticeForSavanna. 

Loved ones placed candles at the home during the vigil, as many wept and hugged, and others laughed and told stories of the young woman they cherished. 

Joan Deib, a friend of Pikuyak's, organized the vigil. The two became close when Pikuyak travelled to Dawson Creek to give birth to her son Kalluk in August 2020. Deib gave birth at the same time, and remembered how they helped each other through postpartum depression. 

"She was kind. She cared so deeply," Deib said. "That's how I'll remember her all the time."

Deib said she organized the vigil to remember and honour her friend, but also show support — albeit from a distance — for her family in Nunavut.

"She'll never leave our hearts and minds. We are going to make sure there's justice for her, whatever [form] that takes," she said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Avanthika Anand is a reporter with CBC Ottawa. She was previously a news and feature writer at Future of Good. You can reach her by email avanthika.anand@cbc.ca.

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