As It Happens

Thunder Bay woman's trailer hitch death 'a horrific act of racism,' says cousin

Debbie Kakagamic says that even at the end of her life, her cousin Barbara Kentner thought of others before herself.
Barbara Kentner (R) and her cousin, Debbie Kakagamic. (Debbie Kakagamic/Facebook)

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Barbara Kentner, the woman who was hit by a trailer hitch in Thunder Bay, Ont., died on Tuesday.

Kentner was a 34-year-old Anishinaabe mother, who was in and out of the hospital since she was injured in January. 

Her sister told As It Happens at the time of the assault that a person in a passing car yelled "I got one" after throwing a trailer hitch out the window, which hit her hard in the stomach. 

One person in that car, 18-year-old Brayden Bushby, was later charged with aggravated assault. That charge could be upgraded now that Kentner has died. 
Barb Kentner in 2015. (Barbara Kentner/Facebook)

Debbie Kakagamic is Kentner's cousin. She spent the last weeks and months at her bedside. She spoke to As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch about that time: 

Debbie Kakagamic: It was really hard, she was in a lot of pain, and she was suffering. It was not easy to see. But I am thankful that I had that time, and was able to spend time with her. 

Laura Lynch: What were those final days like for you and your family, spending time with Barb? 

DK: Her sister Melissa was there around the clock. Her daughter Serena, who's only 16 years old, came to visit off and on. It was really difficult for her. When she did come, she was so good to her mom. You could see the love between the two of them. Serena would climb in her bed with her, and lay with her, and rub her, hold her hands, fix her blankets. That was very hard to watch, because it was so intimate, the love that they shared. 

Barbara was always very, very family-oriented, she loved every family member and we all loved her. Even though she was suffering, and hurting, and going to be leaving us soon, she thought of others and thought of the children.
Barbara Kentner loved the flowers she received in hospital, her cousin Debbie Kakagamic says: "She couldn't believe that people cared about her."

LL: When you first heard about what had happened to Barb, how did you react?

DK:  I was really angry. That someone would do such a thing. That it was my family. Barb's very kind-hearted, and it just was horrific act of, I feel, racism. I was angry. 

LL: An 18-year-old man was charged with aggravated assault after the incident, and that charge could change, now that Barb has actually died. I'm wondering what do you believe should happen with the case? 

DK: I'm hoping the charges are upgraded and I'm thinking that the other people involved that were in the vehicle, they should all have some type of charge as well. They must know exactly what they were doing. The driver had to pull up alongside, slow down, like, they all knew, everyone in that vehicle must have known what they were doing. And it was a game for them. 
Barbara Kentner's cousin Debbie Kakagamic spent the last weeks and months at Barb's bedside. (Facebook/ Debbie Kakagamic )

LL: There were calls for the Thunder Bay police to classify this as a hate crime, and they've never done so. Should they? 

DK: They've declined doing that, but I believe that they should. To me, it's obvious it was a hate crime. 

LL: At a meeting today in Thunder Bay, some Indigenous families and chiefs said it is no longer safe for their children to attend school there, because of racist incidents. What is it like to be an Indigenous person living in Northern Ontario right now?

DK:  I'm a mother, I have seven children of my own, I also have 11 grandchildren, and I'm afraid for them every day. Every single day that they leave the house. You never know what is going to happen to them. I'm very worried about my son in Thunder Bay, because there have been numerous young aboriginal boys ending up in the river somehow, and this has to stop. What is happening to our children? 

LL: How will you remember Barb? 

DK: I close my eyes and I think about her. When she was a bit younger, and she was beautiful and full of life and fun. She had a great sense of humour and she was caring. That's the Barb that I know. 

People are sharing her story, people are grieving with us. I think she will never be forgotten. She has opened other people's eyes, and she's going to live on. She will be a symbol of the change that's to come. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To hear more from Debbie Kakagamic, listen to the audio above.