Family, Friends of Azraya Ackabee-Kokopenace Continue Push For Inquest A Year After Her Death

Family, friends and community members walked through Kenora in memory of Azraya Ackabee-Kokopenace on Monday, April 17, which marked a year since the 14-year-old Grassy Narrows First Nation teenager’s body was found across the street from the Lake of the Woods District Hospital after a two-day search. The Winnipeg-based community group Urban Warrior Alliance and members of the Winnipeg Bear Clan Patrol marched in support. Kathleen Charlebois/Daily Miner and News

By Kathleen Charlebois | Miner and News, April 18, 2017

Braeden Kokopenace held up a picture of his twin sister emblazoned with the words “We will not forget” and “#Justice4Azraya” for all to see during a march in her memory.

He and Azraya Ackabee-Kokopenace’s family, friends and community members from Grassy Narrows First Nation walked from Knox United Church to the wooded site across from the Lake of the Woods District Hospital where Azraya’s body was found after a two-day search a year ago on April 17. She disappeared from the hospital after police brought her there.  Friends, family and provincial representatives continue to press for inquest into her death.

Braeden said Azraya was “a sweet girl” who he loved and cared for. “I want justice for my sister,” he said during a press conference at the vigil. “She didn’t deserve to be treated like that by police.”

He referred to a video that showed a Kenora OPP officer in an altercation with Azraya a few weeks before her death, and he said he believes the incident impacted her badly. “I think it put fear into our community,” he said.

Braeden also said both youth and elders have been mourning for her in the year since her death. “Justice for my sister would mean answers about what happened to her and improving the system so less suicides take place,” he said.

Azraya’s aunt Lorenda Kokopenace said her niece’s death has been difficult to bear and the system “really failed all of them.”

She said she feels like the Anishinaabe Abinoojii Family Services, who had Azraya in their custody, is another kind of residential school system.

“That stuff needs to stop, and we need to all work together and quit sending our kids away,” Lorenda said. “She wanted to come home and they ignored that.”
Irwin Elman, the provincial advocate for children and youth in Ontario, said he has written in the past to the regional supervising coroner, Dr. Michael Wilson, to ask for an inquest.

Wilson said last October that the involvement of Child Protective Services adds “additional elements” to his investigation and requires more time, although Kenora Rainy-River MPP Sarah Campbell and Azraya’s family say an inquest is legally required as Azraya was in police custody when she died.

“A coroner’s inquest will investigate and explain circumstances around Azraya’s death and will provide us with the first step that we need to go forward so we can prevent the further loss of Indigenous youth,” Campbell said.

After walking through Kenora, marchers visited the memorial site across from the hospital, where they lit candles and put down tobacco.

Azraya’s friend Kyra Fobister shared that she often visits her friend’s grave in her home community and talks and plays songs they both like.

“We as a whole deserve to know the truth,” she said. “It may not bring her back but it’s our only way to cope with everyday life without her.”

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‘We Want The Violence to Stop’: Dozens Gather at Vigil for Jeanenne Fontaine

Lana Fontaine sat on a stool outside her largely burned-down home on Saturday evening at a vigil for her daughter, Jeanenne Fontaine, who died on Wednesday after being taken off life-support. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Fontaine, 29, and Shania Chartrand, 21, were both shot, killed in Winnipeg this week

CBC News Posted: Mar 18, 2017

When Kimberley Kostiuk thinks about the two young Indigenous women who were shot in Winnipeg within 48 hours of each other, she is afraid for her own daughters.

“I have two young daughters that are that age. I worry for them all the time. You just don’t know … what’s going to be next. Two young women shot and killed in one week,” she said.

Shania Chartrand, 21, was shot late last Sunday night on the 200 block of Spence Street.

On Tuesday, Jeanenne Fontaine, 29, was found in her home after she was shot in the back of the head, according to her family, and the house was set on fire. She was rushed to hospital but died on Wednesday morning, after being taken off life-support.

A vigil for Fontaine took place on Saturday at 7 p.m. outside her home on the 400 block of Aberdeen Avenue.

“The whole community is sad. We are all sad. We are very scared,” Kostiuk said.

“We want the violence to stop. It’s enough, we are losing too many of our young women too soon. This shouldn’t be happening.”

Mourners came forward to offer Lana Fontaine condolences throughout the evening. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Fontaine was the cousin of Tina Fontaine, the 15-year-old girl whose death sparked public outrage and calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Sandy Banman was one of around 50 people who attended the Saturday evening vigil. Banman hadn’t known Fontaine or Chartrand, but came to support the families and community.

“It just seems like something has shifted in the last few years, where the crime [in the North End] seems to be getting extremely … violent,” she said. “It’s just absolutely shocking what’s going on here this week in the city, with Shania’s loss as well as Jen’s loss.”

A member of Winnipeg’s Urban Warrior Alliance, Banman said she’s been to too many vigils in the past. She wants to see change.

Sandy Banman

Sandy Banman, a member of the Urban Warrior Alliance, said she wants to see more accessible detox programs for men, women and families in Winnipeg. (CBC)

“We just keep saying over and over, ‘This has got to stop,’ every vigil I do,” she said. “We do these vigils because the community needs to heal as well as families. This violence has to end. It has to stop.”

Banman said she wanted to see more accessible detox programs for men, women and families.

“We need to be healing families so this kind of crime and violence will end,” she said.

‘They are human beings’

Kostiuk is a member of Drag the Red, an organization that started searching the Red River for bodies after Tina Fontaine was found there.

Kostiuk joined the group in order to heal and to help others after her 16-year-old daughter’s death in 2000.

While Fontaine struggled with drug use and had a criminal record, Kostiuk said she was also a mother and sister.

“You hear a lot of negativity also about these people but people don’t know them,” she said.

“They are human beings. They are women. They are our women. They are mothers. They are sisters. They are grandmas. They don’t deserve this. Nobody does.”

Kimberley Kostiuk says the violence needs to stop after two young Indigenous women were shot in Winnipeg within 48 hours of each other. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The vigil was intended to give the community an opportunity to mourn Fontaine and Chartrand and “remember the good that they had in them,” Kostiuk said. But they are becoming too frequent for the Fontaine family, she added.

“That poor family, I can’t imagine what her mother is going through right now,” Kostiuk said, adding the little cousins have lost too many family members.

“They’ve been to so many vigils already. They shouldn’t even have to think of this at a young age.”


‘Absolutely Heartbreaking’: Vigil Organizer Says Deaths In Custody Preventable

Cecil James is helping to organize a vigil in Winnipeg three years after his sister, Kinew, died at the Regional Psychiatric Centre. (Cecil James/Submitted to CBC)

Cecil James is helping to organize a vigil in Winnipeg three years after his sister, Kinew, died at the Regional Psychiatric Centre. (Cecil James/Submitted to CBC)

Cecil James’ sister, Kinew, died at a psychiatric centre in Saskatoon in 2013

CBC News Posted: May 20, 2016

Cecil James will never forget the phone call that changed his family’s life forever.

His sister Kinew James died at the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon after a nurse took too long to call a Code Blue after finding her unresponsive late one January night in 2013.

“That call was absolutely heartbreaking because we had conversation of what plans, of what she would do once she got out,” he said, adding his sister was expected to be released in August 2013.

James said that’s why he’s so eager to help throw a vigil and rally for Bradley Errol Green and Hollie Hall who died at the Winnipeg Remand Centre.

(Left) Bradley Errol Green died at the Winnipeg Remand Centre on May 1 and Hollie Hall died there in March. (Courtesy of Rochelle Pranteau/Gerri Hall)

(Left) Bradley Errol Green died at the Winnipeg Remand Centre on May 1 and Hollie Hall died there in March. (Courtesy of Rochelle Pranteau/Gerri Hall)

Green, 26, experienced two epileptic seizures while in custody at the centre on May 1. He later died.

Hall died after contracting influenza or a flu-like illness while in custody in March.

“I’m there for the families, I can relate to what these people have gone through,” said James.

“Nobody expects a call in general from people saying your loved one’s passed away, but it’s definitely shocking when they’re supposed to be in a safe environment.”

He added, “These are preventable deaths. People go in with pre-existing medical conditions and just because they’re incarcerated, they shouldn’t be denied proper medical care.”

James said prominent Indigenous leaders in Manitoba will be at Saturday’s vigil, and all members of the public are encouraged to come.

He said many at the rally will be there to demand an inquest into the deaths of both Green and Hall. An inquest is continuing into his own sister’s death, he said.

“We’re still waiting for answers three years later, so this family will need the support. I’m glad the leadership has stepped up to support this family,” he said.

At a past vigil for Green, James met his younger brother Braydon.

“He’s a very strong young man. I wish I could’ve met him outside of this situation,” he said, adding Braydon volunteers with Bear Clan and Drag the Red.

“To be still out in the community doing what he can for the community and going through what he’s going through, he’s a strong young man and I’m just very impressed by him and I’m glad to have met him,” he said.

James said he plans to continue to support Green and Hall’s family in the years to come, and hopes others in Manitoba join him.

The event will take place at 5 p.m. CT on Saturday in front of the Remand Centre.

Family Holds Winnipeg Vigil For Woman Found Dead On First Nation

Terry White slouches over while crying at a vigil for his fiancé Krystal Andrews at the Manitoba Legislature Thursday. (CBC)

Terry White slouches over while crying at a vigil for his fiancé Krystal Andrews at the Manitoba Legislature Thursday. (CBC)

CBC News

Krystal Andrews, 23, found dead on God’s Lake First Nation Nov. 9

The family of a woman found dead on a remote, northern Manitoba First Nation this week gathered for a vigil at the steps of the Manitoba Legislature Thursday night.

Krystal Andrews, 23, was found dead in an isolated area on God’s Lake First Nation on Monday. RCMP are calling her death suspicious.

Carol Nazzie, 25, said she is still having a hard time processing what happened to her childhood friend.

Krystal Andrews

Krystal Andrews, 23, was found dead in God’s Lake Narrows.

“Just devastated, it’s just heartbreaking,” she said. “I just can’t believe this is happening.”

A family member told CBC News on Tuesday that Andrews had phoned her fiancé Terry White early Sunday morning to tell him she was on her way home from her friend’s house in God’s Lake. She never made it back.

“She was a loving and caring woman, she makes people laugh and she was a very smart girl,” White said at the vigil for Andrews, adding she was an honour student in school.

“My babies just came to my mind when I heard they found her. I just wanted to go get her and give her a kiss.”

Andrews and White, both in their early 20s, were high school sweethearts and had been together for nine years.

Terry White

Terry White hugs his daughter Khloe at the Winnipeg vigil for his fiancée Krystal Andrews Thursday night. (CBC)

White said while the past few days have been hard, he was grateful to receive support from the dozens of people at the vigil.

“It means a lot to me, makes me feel a lot better,” he said, adding his fiancée was “a great mother” to their two children.

Andrews and White were supposed to get married in 2016.

RCMP continue to investigate Andrews’ death on God’s Lake. An autopsy is being performed on her body in Winnipeg. No arrests have been made.

God’s Lake First Nation is about 550 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Vigil Held For Missing And Murdered Aboriginal Women

People gathered in front of City Hall on Monday to show their support of Sisters In Spirit, an organization seeking answers for the loved ones of hundreds of missing and murdered women in Canada.

People gathered in front of City Hall on Monday to show their support of Sisters In Spirit, an organization seeking answers for the loved ones of hundreds of missing and murdered women in Canada.

CTV News‎

Residents of Calgary gathered on Monday in the hopes of triggering some action on the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal woman as part of a larger national event taking place in many other communities across the country.

The Sisters In Spirit vigil began outside Calgary City Hall on Monday afternoon.

It has been ongoing every October for 11 years, but it’s more important this year because it is just two weeks away from Election Day and organizers say they have a chance to influence future policy makers as a result.

There have been other elections, but they also say that awareness of the number of murdered and missing Aboriginal women have gone up in recent days.

It’s partly because of more people speaking out, but also because of a large number of recent high profile cases.

Aboriginal women are just four percent of the Canadian population, but make up 16 percent of all homicides involving women. In the Prairies, that figure jumps to 28 percent.

Those behind the rally hope their efforts are enough to spark an inquiry and put an action plan in place.

Sisters In Spirit vigils are being held in a number of cities across the country in the hopes of spurring action on the issue of murdered and missing Aboriginal women in Canada.

Sisters In Spirit vigils are being held in a number of cities across the country in the hopes of spurring action on the issue of murdered and missing Aboriginal women in Canada.

“We know the federal government said it’s not high on his radar, so we’re asking him to reconsider his statement and understand that this is affecting so many,” said Josie Nepinak with the Sisters In Spirit.

On Sunday, a similar event was held in Edmonton, which began with a smudging, the burning of various medicinal plants to create a ritual cleansing smoke that is expected to lift negative energy, feelings, and emotions. It was followed by an open prayer and a rally walk.

Many people at the ceremony carried placards bearing photos and names of their loved ones.

Nearly 1,200 women are being honoured at these events across Canada.

The rally began at noon at City Hall plaza with remarks by Mayor Naheed Nenshi and then proceeded to Eau Claire Market, with a series of remarks from families of murdered and missing women, special guest speakers, and traditional Aboriginal drummers and singers.

Nepinak Family Still Searching For Answers


Susan Caribou looks at a photo of her neice Tanya Nepinak in Winnipeg Friday September 23, 2011. Nepinak’s body is believed to be in the Brady Landfill. (BRIAN DONOGH/WINNIPEG SUN FILES)

By Jim Bender | Winnipeg Sun

Sue Caribou still grieves for her niece, Tanya Nepinak.

“She used to call me ‘Auntie Mom,’ and we’d sing together,” Caribou recalled Saturday. “We used to sing Will the Circle Be Unbroken? And I’m going to sing it at the vigil (Sunday).”

Caribou is holding a vigil at Thunderbird House on Sunday at 4 p.m. for both Nepinak and Skye Bighetty, another niece, who was murdered when she was eight years old,

“I’m honouring both my nieces,” Caribou said. “There was a vigil for Skye on the reserve (Pukatagawan) but a lot of her family lives in Winnipeg and couldn’t make it to the reserve. She was the baby of my baby brother, Ovid, and he died of a heartache five months after she was killed. I haven’t even grieved for my brother yet.”

Skye was killed by her older brother two years ago. Her brother was deemed to be mentally ill and not criminally responsible.

But Caribou remains frustrated with the lack of information about Nepinak, who has been missing for four years. She was once believed to be a victim of serial killer Shawn Lamb, but he has denied it, Caribou said.

“My family was devastated when Sean Lamb got paid by the police,” she said. “They should be paying for these vigils.”

Police paid Lamb for information before he was sentenced to 20 years for murdering other women.

“The police don’t tell the family anything. They don’t contact the family to say where they’re searching. It’s very hard for our family without having any closure … I sometimes hope and pray she’s still alive.”

Nepinak’s body has never been found.

Police actually started searching for Nepinak’s remains at the Brady Landfill, but called it off on the second day.

“That would have been Tanya’s birthday,” Caribou said.

Caribou also wondered why families with missing women are left in the dark whenever they find a body.

“Police should phone those families to say the bodies aren’t theirs,” she said. “Families have a lot of anxiety whenever this happens. I know what the families go through. It’s very hard.”


Dozens Gather To Remember Indigenous Woman Killed By Store Owner

Dozens attend the Winnipeg vigil for Geraldine Beardy. (Photo: Red Power Media)

Dozens attend the Winnipeg vigil for Geraldine Beardy. (Photo: Red Power Media)

Red Power Media, Staff 

Dozens of people gathered at a vigil in Winnipeg to remember Geraldine Beardy.

Beardy, a 29-year-old Indigenous woman, was taken off life support on Sept. 18, 2009, after being assaulted days earlier in Okay Groceries on Sherbrook Street, where she allegedly tried to steal a can of meat worth $1.49.

Beardy’s family members said they believe she was hit with a baseball bat and lapsed into a coma after being struck.

At the time, police alleged the convenience store owner confronted Beardy and assaulted her.

Owner Kwang Soo Kim, was charged with manslaughter, but the charges were dropped in 2011 after the main witness left the country.

Friday afternoon, a memorial vigil was held outside the Health Sciences Centre, six years after Beardy passed away.

Mourners passed out Klik and bannock sandwiches, drummed and prayed, then released balloons as they paid tribute to Beardy.


Geraldine Beardy’s, Great-grandmother Eliza Beardy, far right, speaks at the Winnipeg vigil. (Photo: Red Power Media)

Great-grandmother Eliza Beardy fought back tears to share some strong words with the crowd at the event. She asked the crowd to respect each other and remember we are all human.

“Even though she had nothing in terms of material things, one of the things she loved to do is help other people who had nothing as well,” the memorial organizer Leslie Spillett said.

“When we see someone who may  be hungry or may be houseless… that we open up our hearts and treat people like human beings,” Spillett said.

Friends will also host a memorial feast in Garden Hill on Saturday.

Vigil Held In Memory Of Homeless Men

People gather on the sidewalk on Carlton Street between Portage and Ellice avenues Sunday for a vigil for two homeless men killed on the weekend.

People gather on the sidewalk on Carlton Street between Portage and Ellice avenues Sunday for a vigil for two homeless men killed on the weekend.

By: Ashley Prest | Winnipeg Free Press

Morley Hill heard drums downtown on Sunday night, so he walked toward the sound on Carlton Street.

Homeless for the past six months and staying wherever he can on Winnipeg’s downtown streets, Hill was in the neighbourhood.

A vigil, attended by about 30 people, was held on the sidewalk on Carlton between Portage and Ellice avenues. People sang, drummed, placed candles in the grate surrounding a tree and tied red and white silk flowers to the tree in memory of two vulnerable men who police said were “brutally killed” on downtown streets Saturday.

One man was found at the rear of 329 Hargrave St. and the other was found at the rear of 333 Portage — locations not far from the site of the vigil.

“I heard drums so I came down over here. The only reason I came down over here is because I heard drums and they said it was for a cause, for all our people who have been on the streets,” Hill said.

“Right now what I hear is they can’t find who did that to my cousin.”

Hill said his cousin was Myles Monias, the 37-year-old man who died after being found beaten inside a bus shelter on April 10 at Main Street and Pioneer Avenue.

Hill said people need to be reminded living on the street and being homeless is a circumstance and should not be a death sentence.

“I want people to see us as people, not as bums,” said Hill, 32. “It’s really important. Just give us a chance.

“Instead of judging us, let us come up to you and see that we’re nice people. We’re not mean. Just because we’re on the streets doesn’t mean that we’re mean.”

Vin Clarke, who said he has been homeless in the past, and Harrison Friesen put on reflective vests and took to the downtown streets Sunday night to personally warn individuals of possible danger lurking on the streets they call home.

Armed with human kindness and a colour copy of the Winnipeg police press release about persons of interest in the killings and cautioning homeless community members to avoid secluded areas, Clarke said word of mouth is the best way to reach those who need to hear the warnings.

“We’re walking around warning all the homeless people that don’t really get to watch TV or check social media about what’s going on in the city here,” Clarke said.

“We’re letting people know that there’s been three men now (killed on the street) and some people I talked to didn’t even know (that two more men had been killed),” Friesen said. “I talked to a couple of men near here (Carlton Street) and they told me the cops have been around and are driving around.”

Clarke said they’re telling people to walk in pairs and to try to sleep in a location where others are also sleeping, for safety in numbers.

“That’s what I used to do when I was homeless,” Clarke said. “It’s dangerous out here by yourself.”

Call for action at vigil for missing, murdered Aboriginal women


Oct 2, 2014

Nicky Bomberry had to pause during her speech at an annual vigil for Canada’s missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

Looking out at the crowd of about 100 gathered Wednesday at City Hall, Bomberry — the Aboriginal health and wellness co-ordinator for the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre — was overcome with emotion at the raising of the Sisters in Spirit flag.

“This isn’t just a cause. For me, this is personal,” she said.

As an Aboriginal woman and a front-line worker, she has sat through trials of murdered women and has friends who’ve lost mothers.

More than 1,200 Aboriginal women are missing or have been murdered in Canada since 1980, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

“Yes it’s an Aboriginal issue, but it’s a societal issue. Where does the idea come from that it’s OK to hurt these women? There is this idea that Aboriginal women are disposable. Where does that come from?” she asked.

On Tuesday, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) and Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) announced an official partnership, joining together to be “constructive voices” on the issue of the missing and murdered women.

“I am proud to make a commitment on behalf of Hamilton police to participate in that national dialogue,” Hamilton police chief Glenn De Caire told the crowd.

But not everyone is optimistic about the substance of that commitment. Jodi Pine of Genbajing (Serpent River, Ont.), for one, is not holding her breath.

“We’ll see, I guess,” she said, hoisting a sign above her head that read: ‘An inquiry/ and preventatives/ not empty promises.’

“I’m not optimistic. You can’t be when you see what goes on in reality,” she said.

In August, the federal government rejected calls for a national inquiry — despite what Ghislain Picard, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, called a “growing momentum” behind the proposal.

Bomberry too wants to see an inquiry — but she believes CACP’s formal expression of support is a step in the right direction.

“When we have the chief of police or the mayor saying these things in public, out loud, it gives them a responsibility. … Now we have a responsibility to remind them — ‘Remember when you said …. Well, what are you doing?'” she said.

According to their 2013 “national operational overview,” the RCMP noted that Aboriginal women are at a higher risk of being victims of violence. According to the 2009 General Social SURVEY on victimization, nearly 67,000 Aboriginal women in Canada reported being a victim of violence in the past year.

Roughly 100 people were at the event, including representatives from the Aboriginal community.

Linda Ense — who heads the Native Women’s Centre of Hamilton — was both honoured and saddened to speak on behalf of the 1,200 missing and murdered.

“I’m honoured to speak on behalf of these women. … But it is such a sad, sad responsibility to have to do,” Ense said.

The Sisters in Spirit Committee is also holding a community dinner, candlelight vigil and water ceremony on Saturday. All are welcome to the Saturday event, which starts at 5 p.m. at Honouring The Circle (21 Rosedene Ave.)

For more information on that event, visit their Facebook page at