Twenty-five years after his freezing death, family, friends and strangers gathered in a Saskatoon church basement to honour the memory of Neil Stonechild.
About 150 people attended a feast at St. Thomas Wesley United Church Wednesday night. Stew, bannock, and candy were laid out on blankets and the smell of ceremonial sage and sweetgrass filled the room.
“We want to honour his life and this is the way our culture does it. We want to feed his spirit,” said Jason Roy, friend and organizer of the feast.
Roy was the last person to see Stonechild alive in the back of a police cruiser before he was found days later frozen in a field on the city’s outskirts. His death led to a judicial inquiry, and the firing of the two police officers who last had contact with the 17-year-old boy.
Many in attendance, like 20-year-old Brandon Moiah, were not even alive when Stonechild died. He first heard the story as a young boy and felt compelled to attend.
“That’s why I’m hear to remember him,” he said. “I’ve actually read the starlight tour book in 2010. From that moment on I understood what really happened, to not only Neil Stonechild but others as well.”
Friends say Stonechild’s tragic passing represents the dark history of strained relations between police and First Nations.
Ashley Carrier, 34, said the Stonechild death brought a lot of awareness to the issue. She said change has been slow, but is getting there and hopes one day she can make a contribution to mending that relationship.
“I was aware of this incident when I was younger. It’s one of the reasons I choose to go to university in the program of Aboriginal Justice and Criminology.”
The feast fell on the same day as the release of the book “When Police Become Prey: the cold hard facts about the freezing death on Neil Stonechild” which pokes holes into the Stonechild death inquiry.
– with files from News Talk’s Kurtis Doering