Many people fought back tears as they gathered inside Sackville’s Mount Allison University, sharing their grief over the deaths of three young Indigenous people from across Canada, including New Brunswick.
The vigil was held Tuesday night in memory of Brady Francis, 22, an Elsipogtog First Nation man who was struck and killed in a hit-and-run at the end of February.
– Community waits for answers in Brady Francis’s hit-and-run death
– Brady Francis Community waits for answers in Brady Francis’s hit-and-run death
The vigil also honoured Manitoba’s Tina Fontaine, who was just 15 when her body was found in Winnipeg’s Red River, wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down with rocks in August 2014.
People were also there to remember Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old who was shot on a rural Saskatchewan farmyard in August 2016.
“You didn’t deserve to be shot, you didn’t deserve to be left in a bag, you didn’t deserve to be left on the side of the road,” shouted Maisyn Sock of Eskasoni First Nation in Nova Scotia.
During the vigil, Sock repeatedly called for justice following Francis’s death, who was one of her close friends.
“I cared about Brady a lot,” Sock told a crowd of about 50 people, with tears streaming down her face.
“I can’t even believe he’s dead. It’s been 24 days and I still can’t believe he’s dead.”
Racism stands out like ‘a neon light’
Sock’s pleas were accompanied by several others, who shared stories of racism, the dangers of living on reserve and as an Indigenous woman, the constant fear of being murdered or to go missing.
“A lot of people don’t see it,” said JJ Bear, who helped host the vigil with traditional song and prayer.
“But we see it like a neon light and that’s called racism.”
Bear spoke at length about issues Indigenous people face on a regular basis and the lack of knowledge most Canadians have in comprehending how these communities are suffering.
“They don’t understand where we come from, what has happened to our people,” he said.
A time to listen
The evening included repeated calls for change to Canada’s justice system, specifically for more representation from Indigenous people.
It was also a chance to help non-Indigenous people understand challenges Indigenous people face in New Brunswick and across the country.
“Tonight, we should highlight some of those things people should be doing right now,” said Emma Hassencahl-Perley, the Indigenous affairs co-ordinator at Mount Allison University.
“Whether that’s listening, or being upset with us [or] demanding justice. Those are kind of immediate things that should happen right now.”
Many in the crowd wore white sweatshirts displaying Brady Francis’s face with “#JusticeforBrady” printed on the front.
Police have not yet made an arrest following Francis’s death, but RCMP have recently released photographs of a pickup truck suspected in the Saint-Charles hit-and-run last month.
As a result, people like Doreen Richards attended the vigil to find peace with so many unanswered questions.
“There are people who have been murdered and people have been acquitted,” she said.
“For me, I had to come so that I would be part of the healing.”