Friends of Neil Stonechild mark 25 years since his death

A special feast will happen today to mark 25 years since Neil Stonechild froze to death on the outskirts of Saskatoon.

Neil Stonechild froze to death on the outskirts of Saskatoon on Nov. 25, 1990

A special feast will happen today to mark 25 years since Neil Stonechild froze to death on the outskirts of Saskatoon.

His death led to an RCMP investigation, a judicial inquiry, and the firing of the two police officers who last had contact with the 17-year-old boy. 

"I just wanted to be able to give Neil, to be able to honour him and his contribution to Saskatoon. His life and his legacy that have been left behind because of his tragic passing," said Jason Roy, who was with Stonechild the night he died.

The feast will take place at St. Thomas Wesley Church on 20th Street and Avenue H. Roy said the feast will serve traditional foods like elk, deer and moose. It will be a chance for people to offer prayers and share their stories. 

"It's definitely a milestone," Roy said. "I woke up this morning thinking, 'OK today's the 24th. My morning 25-years-ago started so much differently than where I'm at now."

Jason Roy last saw Neil Stonechild in the back of a police cruiser. He is helping to organize a feast on the 25th anniversary of Stonechild's death to honour his friend's life. (CBC)

Judicial inquiry into Stonechild's death

Stonechild's mother, Stella Bignell, testified at the inquiry, which began in February 2003. 

She shared her son's last words in her testimony.

"He come and hugged me, he said I'm gonna be fine Mom, he said. I'll see you later, he said. I can't phone you because there's no phone there, he told me. And he come and kissed me and he left." Bignell said she never saw him again. 

Police were called later that night to Confederation Park where Stonechild and Jason Roy were allegedly drunk and causing a disturbance.

Roy, who was 16 at the time, told the inquiry he last saw Stonechild screaming for help in a police cruiser.

He said he thinks about what happened every year on the anniversary of that night.

"It replays over in my mind a lot."

Stonechild's frozen body was found in a field near 57th Street on Nov. 29. 

A decade went by, before two other indigenous men died under similar circumstances. The deaths were suspected of being linked to an alleged police practice called "starlight tours" where officers would drop off intoxicated people on the edges of town so they could sober up by walking.

The province ordered a commission of inquiry into Stonechild's death.

The judicial inquiry ruled police had botched the investigation because they either knew or suspected fellow officers were involved. Officers Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger were fired but they were never criminally charged.

The former officers maintain to this day that they did not have Neil Stonechild in their cruiser that night.

Remembering Neil Stonechild

Jeff Crowe was good friends with Neil Stonechild as a teenager. He said he always thinks of his late friend on the anniversary of his death. (CBC)

Jeff Crowe, who was Stonechild's best friend as a teenager, said he remembers him on this day. 

"Especially if it is really, really cold and windy, I always think about him that night. And what he was going through that night."

Crowe is a well-respected artist now. He is convinced he too would have died if he'd been with Stonechild that night. 

"It's very difficult to live here you know. Because everywhere I go, there's always a memory of him, you know, like he's still here," he said.

Jeff "Bluesky" Crowe puts a symbol on each piece of artwork that is inspired by Neil Stonechild. (CBC)

Crowe puts a symbol on each of his works that is inspired by Stonechild.

"There was something about him. Like everybody wanted to be around him. He was always the centre of attention." 

Crowe said he also thinks of Stonechild when he's painting. "There's always a connection there, and I know that he's listening to me when I'm painting. I know that he's there."

He said he hopes the feast is a way to honour his friend.


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