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Hay River Reserve healing after killing

2802kfn!_new Jeffrey Fabian Community planner with K'atlodeeche First Nation Feb. 23, 2018 Hay River Photo by Paul Bickford Northern News Services Ltd.

A ceremony has been held on the Hay River Reserve to help people deal with the emotional distress caused by a death late last year for which four people have been charged with murder.

Neither the victim nor the accused were from the reserve, but residents were nevertheless impacted by the tragic incident.

Jeffrey Fabian: community planner with K'atlodeeche First Nation organizes ceremony to help people deal with emotional distress caused by Sandy Creek killing in late December. Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

Jeffrey Fabian, a community planner with K'atlodeeche First Nation (KFN), noted some people were feeling distressed about travelling along Sandy Creek road, a wilderness route where the victim was found in late December.

"Mostly it was youth and the elders who expressed distress travelling along that road ever since the incident occurred, and the reason why is because Sandy Creek is a sacred place to us," Fabian explained. "It's where we raise our kids to hunt, trap and basically give them the skills to survive in the wilderness. It's where I learned to do those things. So when that happened, it wasn't something that just happened on an abandoned road just somewhere on the reserve. It happened at home on our doorstep, really close to the heart of our home."

So he planned a ceremony – the first of its kind for the First Nation – which was held on Sandy Creek road on Feb. 23, near the site of the incident.

Fabian said it was a means of catharsis to release the trauma, anxiety and emotional distress that people were feeling travelling along that road because, although the victim wasn't raised on the reserve, people in the community had connections with him and some were his friends.

"And so for something as terrible as that to happen so close to home to somebody we knew it caused a lot of emotional distress in our community," Fabian noted.

Because of the nature of the ceremony, he declined to give an exact description of what happened, but did provide an outline.

"We gathered there around a fire, a few community members said a few words," he said, noting he and Chief Roy Fabian were among those who spoke.

"There was a prayer song played and we basically just used it as an opportunity to talk with one another and show support," said Jeffrey Fabian. "It was a means for people to grieve openly and with full support of other community members around them who are also grieving."

The grandmother of the victim was among the approximately 40 people who attended.

"I have to give a big thanks to the family for giving their blessing for us to do this, otherwise it wouldn't have happened or it wouldn't have been appropriate to do," said Fabian.

Speaking later on Feb. 23, he said the ceremony was very cathartic and served its purpose.

"What we did at the end of it was smother the fire in pine tree boughs, and pine tree boughs burn really well," he said. "It is the act of letting go."

Fabian said common practice for such a tragedy is for people to bottle up their feelings or to try to ignore it.

"So I'm addressing the issue, because if we don't handle grief correctly then it can turn into an ugly thing that festers and brings harm," he said.

Fabian expressed thanks to the many people who offered support for the ceremony.

According to earlier information from the RCMP, they responded to a report on Dec. 28 of a vehicle found on the side of the access road to the Sandy Creek area. A deceased male was located inside the vehicle.

The RCMP believe the man died on either Dec. 26 or Dec. 27.

The police have not released the name of the victim, but court documents in Yellowknife identify him as Alexander Norwegian.

Four Hay River residents – three men and a woman – have been charged with murder and robbery in connection with the death.

They are James George Thomas, 25; Levi Cayen, 20; Sasha Cayen, 25; and Tyler Cayen, 32.