A candlelight vigil at the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s Nàkwät’à Kù Potlatch House the afternoon of May 14 saw a community gather to grieve the loss of two 18-year-olds killed in a single-vehicle crash on Hamilton Boulevard in the early morning hours of May 13.
“People are hurting right now and it’s coming out in many different ways,” KDFN Chief Doris Bill told the crowd, stressing how important it is to come together as a community “because we’re in this together”.
Outside the potlatch house, flags flew at half mast and those arriving at the gathering embraced others with long hugs and words of comfort.
Before the vigil got underway, one man who asked not to be named, said he wanted to come to show his support for the families. Like many, he said, he’s lived here all his life and knows both families, one of which is just coming to terms with losing another member recently.
“Everyone’s in shock and grief,” he said.
|Priscilla Smith, right, the mother of 18-year-old Stallion Smarch who was killed Monday in a car accident, mourns with family and friends at a candlelight vigil at the in Whitehorse on May. 14. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)|
It was the youth of the community who requested leaders, community members and the media attend the vigil.
“They want everybody to see what we are going through,” Bill said.
Families are hurting right now and need help, the chief continued.
“As a community we need to step forward and do what we can.”
Bill went on to thank all those who came out to support the community and families before inviting others who wanted to step forward and speak.
A number of those attending spoke through tears remembering those they loved and reminding each other of the support needed to heal as a community.
“We don’t need anymore pain, anymore anger,” one speaker said.
Another told the crowd: “If there has ever been a time that First Nation people have to come together with one clear voice, one clear message that it has to stop, that time is now. We need to do whatever it takes to get behind our young people so they can go the distance and live full lives.”
The two deceased have been identified as Faith Lynn Papineau and Stallion Smarch.
In a statement earlier on May 14, Bill requested financial assistance for the families.
“Our community is grieving right now. The accident on Hamilton Boulevard yesterday claimed the lives of two of our young people and has injured others.
“On top of that we are also grieving another young man who passed away on the weekend.
“Unfortunately, these families have very recently put other family members to rest. This is an extraordinary situation. Therefore, I am appealing to the larger community for financial assistance. These families have drained their financial resources and have to arrange other funeral services now.”
|Travis Smarch cries during a candlelight vigil at the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s Nàkwät’à Kų̀ Potlatch House on May. 14, 2019, organized for Faith Papineau and his cousin Stallion Smarch.(Crystal Schick/Yukon News)|
Donations can be made at the front desk of the KDFN’s administration building and it will be split between the two families.
Traditional and clinical counsellors are available at the Nàkwät’à Kù Potlatch House and the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre.
A counsellor is scheduled to be at the Friendship Centre for anyone looking for counselling from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. May 15 and May 17 and from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. on May 16, with the centre closed over the noon hour.
The potlatch house will have a counsellors available until 8 p.m. May 15. While the space is already booked for May 16, the First Nation is considering having counselling services there May 17.
Meanwhile, the Yukon Department of Education said it has reached out to affected schools to offer, provide, and ensure appropriate supports are in place for students and staff that may be affected by this tragedy. School counsellors and Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services staff are providing counselling supports to affected schools and communities.
F.H. Collins Secondary School has also opened its First Nations room to any students who may need supports.
“The Department of Education offers our condolences to the families and friends of those who have passed away and those who were involved in this tragic accident,” spokesperson Susie Ross said in an email.
“We will continue to reach out to our school communities to provide support as requested and to keep them updated as more information becomes available.”
A 20-year-old Haines Junction man is facing multiple charges following the deaths.
Anthony Andre is charged with two counts of impaired operation of a vehicle causing death, one count of impaired operation causing bodily harm and three other charges related to impaired driving.
Andre made two brief appearances in a Whitehorse courtroom the morning and afternoon of May 14.
The second appearance lasted only a few minutes. Andre, wearing a black t-shirt and sporting short, spiked hair, sat silently in the prisoner’s box as his lawyer, Lynn McDiarmid, told the court that he would not be seeking bail and was consenting to remaining in custody.
|Candles are lit at a vigil at the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s Nàkwät’à Kų̀ Potlatch House on May 14, organized for two youths killed in a car crash on May 13.(Crystal Schick/Yukon News)|
A handful of women, joined by Champagne and Aishihik First Nations Chief Steve Smith, sat in the court gallery during the proceedings, some of them crying as Andre was escorted into and out of the box. Upon leaving the courtroom, one woman began loudly sobbing, collapsing into another’s arms.
Andre’s next court date is set for later this month.
Emergency responders found the two deceased at the scene approximately one kilometre south of the Bigway Foods store after responding to a call around 6:30 a.m. on May 13, Yukon RCMP said in a statement.
Two other male passengers were assessed at the scene with one being taken to Whitehorse General Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
The collision shut down Hamilton Boulevard between Falcon Drive and the traffic circle at Lobird Road until 2 p.m.
With files from Jackie Hong and Crystal Schick
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org