Indigenous arts community mourns loss of emerging storyteller Taran Kootenhayoo

The Indigenous arts community is mourning the loss of Vancouver-based Dene actor Taran "Standing Sunrise" Kootenhayoo. 

27-year-old Vancouver-based artist died Dec. 31

Taran Kootenhayoo was an emerging talent in the Indigenous arts community. (Melanie Orr Photography)

The Indigenous arts community is mourning the loss of Vancouver-based Dene actor Taran "Standing Sunrise" Kootenhayoo. 

Kootenhayoo was from Cold Lake First Nation and was a registered member of Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, both in Alberta. He died Dec. 31, 2020, at the age of 27.

He was an emerging writer, actor, poet, skateboarder and Indigenous rights activist.

"I want him to be remembered for his care for people, the environment and passion for his work," said his older sister, Cheyanna Kootenhayoo, who performs under the name DJ Kookum.

She said she has been overwhelmed with the amount of support and tributes that she has seen for her brother, including a graffiti mural that was painted on at the Leeside Skatepark in Vancouver.

"I'm just seeing all of the social media stuff and people are sending their condolences. The community is hurt all across the country," she said.

Kootenhayoo loved to skateboard. Days after his death, graffiti tributes popped up at Leeside Skatepark in Vancouver. (Brad Crowfoot)

Kootenhayoo was featured in 2018 indie film Bella Ciao!which has been made available for free online viewing. He also voiced the character Randall in several episodes of the animated series Molly of Denali

Kim Senklip Harvey, a friend and colleague of Kootenhayoo, said he was a "style icon" and that he was just about to hit his stride in the arts world.

"He's a storyteller that was profoundly able to transcend genres," said Harvey. 

"He was just like an incredibly insightful young man who could model and do slam poetry and stand up comedy and write a play and write a musical and be an incredible community member all at the same time.

"I don't know anybody else in the Indigenous community who was able to move between all these areas in the storytelling community the way he did." 

Harvey worked with him on a voiceover project as recently as a month ago. She said Kootenhayoo will be remembered for his smile, his ability to make people laugh and that his presence will be missed.


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He was an associate producer with CBC Indigenous.