Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

Kwanlin Dün First Nation Chief Doris Bill (far left) looks on as elder Diane Smith (second from left) shares a moment with Gabriel Smarch, the father of Śtallion Smarch.

‘We can’t be throwing blame here and there’

Community leaders and members gathered Tuesday afternoon in Whitehorse for a candlelight vigil to honour those lost and their families.

By Palak Mangat on May 15, 2019

Community leaders and members gathered Tuesday afternoon in Whitehorse for a candlelight vigil to honour those lost and their families.

They carried a message of forgiveness, healing and hope just a day after a collision that left two teenagers dead.

After that single-vehicle collision, the Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) encouraged parents, youth and the community to speak openly about the tragedy.

Anthony Andre, 20, of Haines Junction was the driver of the vehicle carrying Stallion Smarch, 19, and Faith Jakesta, 18, both of whom were found dead at the scene on Hamilton Boulevard.

Travis Vincent Smarch, on hand at the vigil, had known one of the victims.

“I’ve known Stallion for quite a few years; we had some good happy times but I can’t believe that he passed away,” he told a crowd gathered near the Potlatch House.

“I love all you guys, and the only thing you have to think about is he’s in a better place – it just f-----g hurt me really hard, and I love him to death.”

Embracing him shortly after was Gabriel Smarch, Stallion’s father.

“We all need to stand together – we’ve got to f-----g stop laying blame,” he said. “We’re burying our f-----g kids, man; my son was only 19 – this place f-----g killed him; he paid the ultimate price for it.”

KDFN Chief Doris Bill explained it was youth who requested the vigil after what has been a tragic last number of weeks, to publicly share how it has been affecting them.

“People are hurting right now, and it’s coming out in many different ways,” Bill said.

“It’s coming out on social media, it’s coming out in the community and it’s coming out against each other in some cases.

“We can’t be throwing blame here and there; it’s not going to help, it’s not going to solve anything.”

Threats have been circulating online toward the family of the driver, noted elder Diane Smith.

“We’re hurting, we need to forgive,” Smith said. “We need to help that young person that’s hurting too.

“The ones that are sending death threats out there through Facebook, through any kind of messages, it has to stop. It’s not the right way to deal with this.”

Smith explained her family would also be laying to rest her nephew in the coming days.

“Instead of sending death threats, send love and support to his mom and his family and to all the families,” she added.

“We don’t need any more pain or any more anger; we need help, we need healing.”

Echoing that message was Judy Gingell, an elder with KDFN and a former Yukon commissioner, who will be laying to rest a relative at Marsh Lake soon.

“The lady and her young daughter that are getting threats, they’re just as good as Diane’s daughters – she was one of the closest best friends to Lisa, who we put away (recently),” Gingell said.

“The best word I heard and we keep hearing and we know, it’s taken us some time – a lot of us were raised in residential schools,” the elder added. “We struggle with it everyday; it’s taken us forever to learn the word to forgive.

“If you don’t forgive, you walk around with a lot of anger and hate, it comes out through your actions.”

On behalf of the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, Mary Battaja of Mayo shared some words.

“We have to begin our day with forgiveness because that’s what it’s all about,” she said.

“All my life, that’s all I ever learned from my elders, not to hate but to forgive and care for one another.”

Tragic losses over the last number of months can make that difficult, she acknowledged.

“We know it’s really hard for us because we keep going to funerals and losing our young people – today, more than ever, I notice how many young people have passed on.”

A foster mother and grandmother herself, she encouraged youth to support both each other and reach out for help to elders.

“It is the right time to start to come together as people, not as First Nations of different groups of people but one First Nation people in the Yukon to unite.”

Among the officials on hand were Mayor Dan Curtis and Liberal MLA Jeanie Dendys, whose son was friends with the other victim.

“There are no words, there just are no words,” Dendys said.

“As First Nation people, we grieve together, we do,” the Tahltan First Nation MLA added, visibly emotional.

“I have so very much love for the Smith family; my son grew up with Faith, they grew up next door to each other.”

Mary Jane Jim of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations shared a message of her own directly to the youth.

“It is our way that we are supposed to be quiet during this time and that we hold each other up and we support one another,” she said.

“And we ask the youth, we beg them, to please hold your elders up – take care of your elders, take care of the family and take care of each other.”

Jim explained it would not be an easy process to heal, but it was necessary.

“Forgiveness is a big part of the healing process, and the family has asked that we find it in our hearts to overcome our grief and to take that step in the healing process by forgiving one another and holding each other in goodness and in kindness so we can heal as a community.”

Dana Tizya-Tramm, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation chief, placed an emphasis on the youth who have been touched by the tragedies, at times speaking directly to them.

“What has taken place is something that will echo through eternity – it touches people and community,” he said.

“But in the pain is also a seed – and may we use this opportunity and the power that we recognize the finality of what has occurred, that we recognize first and foremost the power of the youth.

“We cannot leave it to tragedies to recognize the whole entire universe that we’ve lost in some of these individuals.”

Comments (7)

Up 14 Down 1

Groucho d'North on May 19, 2019 at 4:31 pm

Why does any blame need to be assigned? This tragedy and others like it have become a part of our modern northern culture. It is a frequent story in our media- tragic preventable deaths caused by careless use of booze. A culture that many young people grow up with in their own homes, a culture where getting blitzed is just another part of life to deal with hardships real and imagined.

Many have their favourite reasons for getting drunk and tuning out from the world, I suspect the needless deaths of our children should be another reason for some to start drinking. I hope it will become the reason for more to quit drinking and become positive role models for our young people.
Let's see some leadership rather than trying to put blame on someone or something.

Up 6 Down 1

Politico on May 19, 2019 at 1:05 pm

And it continues
Alcohol again involved. Reminds me of this.

Up 12 Down 7

Gladys on May 17, 2019 at 11:12 am

Again, we have another tragedy. It is important to support youth in our lives to understand and come to terms with how they are effected. Lately, we hear about how youth are impacted & direct support with good words would help them to find their way. We shouldn't forget about how we as adults & elders had to find our way. There's is a long history, that painted our future ~ today, we have choices of designs and colors. We need community programs to reach every citizen & member to know that we are cared for by our communities. It's important to be part of their challenges and provide support to strive to have healthy goals. I know this personally & I also know that parents cannot do it alone.

Up 12 Down 6

True Victims on May 16, 2019 at 1:08 pm

The true victims here are the family and friends of the young people involved. Please don't get me wrong, it is very sad that more people are dying due to impaired driving. I hope that people will learn from this tragedy. I am sorry for those who were hurt and for the loss and pain being felt the families and friends of those involved. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

Up 33 Down 2

Dave on May 16, 2019 at 12:43 pm

When I think of everyone's loved ones that I know who have been lost due to drunk driving since the 60's in Yukon and all the hurt and pain that countless families here have gone through over the years here it makes me indescribably angry, no wonder the organization is called MADD. Drunk driving never ends and I'll bet there was impaired driving happening in Whitehorse again the very night after this happened. No amount of education or policing prevents it, every new generation of people seems to have to learn for themselves the hard way, and people keep getting killed because of it over and over and over.

Up 23 Down 26

Elodie Dulac on May 15, 2019 at 7:10 pm

Anthony is NOT from HJ, he lived here for less then a year, over a year ago. Minor detail, but HJ is getting a tarnished name.

Up 42 Down 11

Mike on May 15, 2019 at 5:44 pm

Forgiveness and sending thoughts of love - those are impossible and fruitless. You are entitled to hate, be angry, scream, hurt, all of it especially so early on. My condolences to the families who have lost their babies. As for the person who chose to drive impaired I have nothing for him. He is beyond a doubt 100% responsible and all the Gladue and crap that's going to come into play allows people to not accept responsibility for their behaviour.
As for threats, they are wasted words and anger voiced by lost souls but for the grace of god there go I but I don't believe in threats. I love my children with all my being if I lose them I have nothing. Someone who has lost a son, the grieving is forever, the pain is forever, it's just learning to cope.
My best to the families.

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