Annie Blake remembers Brandy Vittrekwa as a shy child who grew up to become a funny, caring and charismatic teenager.
Hundreds of Yukoners attended a memorial service for Vittrekwa over the weekend. The 17-year-old was found dead on a Whitehorse trail a week ago.
Blake, a friend of the family, said she first met Vittrekwa when she was living in Old Crow with her grandparents.
“Brandy was this cute little girl who was very shy and always had the biggest smile when I would see her,” she said.
“Every time I saw her, I’d ask her who the prettiest girl in town was, and she’d say I was. After the third or fourth time I asked her, she said ‘Ah, you’re just old.’
“That’s when I knew she had a sense of humour.”
Vittrekwa, who was born in Fort McPherson, N.W.T., also lived in Inuvik before eventually coming to Whitehorse.
Blake ran into her many years later and noticed she had grown into a beautiful young woman, she said.
She described Vittrekwa as someone who was comfortable with the people she knew, and who spoke fondly of her relatives.
“Any time Brandy spoke of her parents and her brother she would always say how much she loved them and that she would do anything for them if they ever asked,” Blake said.
“Brandy often spoke about how much she loved her Aunty Deana’s children. When she returned from the Gwich’in Gathering in Old Crow this summer, she shared stories about how she would bug her aunt’s children because they were shy.”
Vittrekwa would often call herself ‘little Mary Jane’ whenever she went to Blake’s house. That’s because she knew Blake and her grandmother, Mary Jane, were friends. Despite being petite, Brandy had a huge heart, Blake said.
She was someone that many people confided in, trusted and felt safe with, she added.
Twenty-one-year-old Kristen Frost also knew Vittrekwa from Old Crow. They met when Frost was 13.
Later, when Frost had her son, Ryder, Vittrekwa became a reliable and loving friend to both of them.
“She would always come over and visit and we’d bake or watch a movie, but halfway through she’d ditch me to play with my son,” Frost said.
“They’d play hide-and-go-seek and pretend not to find him. Then she’d jump out and scare him, and she’d pick him up and start blowing on his belly.
The last time she saw Vittrekwa was in September in Whitehorse.
“She always said the craziest things to make you laugh,” Frost said.
“She’d say ‘Life is one big party when you’re still young.’ She’ll always have a special place in my heart.”
RCMP are treating Vittrekwa’s death as a homicide. Late last week police arrested a suspect. By Wednesday morning, RCMP hadn’t disclosed the suspect’s name, age or sex. Police continue to ask the public to come forward with any information that might relate to the case.
The death has hit the Kwanlin Dun First Nation community hard, although Vittrekwa was not a member of the First Nation.
On Friday morning, Kwanlin Dun Chief Doris Bill held a second news conference in which she shared her reaction to the RCMP arresting a suspect.
She confirmed that the young person was not a Kwanlin Dun citizen.
“I’m relieved there’s been an arrest in connection with this horrific murder but it’s not lost on me that this is a young person,” she said.
“We have two lives that have been destroyed by this, two young lives. And that breaks my heart.”
Bill was visibly upset when talking about the issue of dealing with First Nation members who have been kicked out of their own communities.
Sometimes they move to Kwanlin Dun land, she said, and that causes a lot of problems.
“We end up dealing with the aftermath,” she said.
“We spend a lot of time, money and resources dealing with citizens of other First Nations and this is something I will take to the leadership table to talk about.”
It’s time for other First Nations to help Kwanlin Dun out, Bill said, and to realize that kicking people out has a ripple effect.
Jeanie Dendys, director of justice for the First Nation, said she heard about the issue during her first week on the job, more than six years ago.
“People are being court-ordered out of their community and they end up here, and we have very little say over that,” she said.
“We’re considering drafting a law – a banishment law – that would give us more control over individuals released into our community. The only problem with that is how to enforce it.”
Fundraising for the Vittrekwa family took an unexpected turn last week, when Sid Sidhu donated $10,000 to help cover funeral costs.
The family had received more than $11,000 by Friday morning. A funeral will be held in Fort McPherson this week.
Contact Myles Dolphin at