Hundreds of supporters surrounded Kelly Fraser’s family and friends as the sun set over Oodena Circle on Treaty 1 Territory to celebrate her life and reflect on the mark she left on people’s hearts and in their minds.
A candlelight vigil held on Saturday evening in Winnipeg for the Juno-nominated Inuk singer-songwriter opened with prayers while a sacred fire burned at the centre of the circle.
Fraser, 26, died by suicide in the city on Christmas Eve. Her death has sparked renewed calls for better mental health and social services for Inuit, First Nations and Métis people who have endured centuries of colonization followed by years of childhood pain and trauma.
Fraser’s family said she was a bright and bubbly social butterfly who was outspoken about inter-generational struggles and her own suffering in the hopes of helping others.
“My baby sister was very fierce and stubborn at the same time,” Maxine Angoo, 33, said.
Fraser used her platform to speak out against stereotyping and racism.
“She was struggling with a lot of demons,” Angoo said.
Drumming, singing and smudging — along with different items people brought with them — provided a multitude of ways for community members to seek healing.
Fraser had been living with her older sister in Winnipeg after relocating from Nunavut, where they both grew up.
Angoo said her younger sister wanted people to see and hear everything good about her life, language and culture.
“She just wanted to be happy,” Angoo said.
For Angoo, the loss of her sister is a reminder to return to tradition.
“That was what she fought for.”
Promoting Inuit culture and language revitalization was a key driving force in Fraser’s music and art. She spoke Inuktitut with her younger family members, her sister said.
Jade Harper of Manitoba Music spoke about the mark Fraser left on the music scene — on and off stage across Turtle Island and around the world.
“This is a really really big loss for our communities,” Harper said.
“I just want to emphasize how incredibly talented that Kelly was, and she was fierce, and nothing ever stopped her.”
A teacher at heart, Fraser shared her love for music and her drum with everyone who wanted to hear it.
In honour of his lost friend, River Steele, who helped organize the vigil, wore a hat that Fraser brought back from Paris as a gift.
“She was a very powerful person,” Steele said.
“She was very unapologetic with how she acknowledged her emotions and how she processed things.”
He said his friend would often confront those emotions.
Now it is important for the community to reflect on the struggles outlined by her death and process those feelings in a healthy way.
“We don’t have time to be unapologetic for feeling human emotions,” Steele said.
Steele expressed thanks to those who showed up, as well as the community at-large who couldn’t be there, and expressed condolences to survivors.
WATCH | Family speaks out for the first time about Kelly Fraser’s death:
Where to get help
If you’re worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them about it, the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention says.
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