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Powwow aims to bring Siksika Nation and Strathmore residents together in honour of slain Indigenous man

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The Town of Strathmore and Siksika Nation hosted the first Lead By Example Powwow this weekend in honour of a young Indigenous man who was shot to death four years ago.

Family of Kristian Ayoungman describe him as a talented powwow dancer and hockey player whose life ended far too soon.

“Anything you put in front of him, he excelled in it,” his mother, Melodie Ayoungman-Hunt, said.

“He was just happy, hard-working and very smart. He was one of the First Nation’s finest gentleman.”

The 24-year-old was found dead in his vehicle on a rural highway south of Strathmore on March 17, 2019. An autopsy determined he died of a gunshot wound.

Over the weekend, hundreds gathered in Strathmore at the Lead By Example Powwow to celebrate Ayoungman’s life.

“This just goes to show the impact that he’s made on everyone. He’s touched someone in some way,” Ayoungman-Hunt said.

“Who knew (Kristian) was going to become something so great, leaving his legacy for all of us to learn from.”

Hundreds gathered in Strathmore at the Lead by Example Powwow to celebrate Kristian Ayoungman’s life (CTV News Calgary/Nicole Di Donato).Ayoungman-Hunt also wanted to hold a powwow to bring Strathmore locals and Siksika Nation residents together.

“Siksika is only 15 minutes from Strathmore and we’re here every day; we support all the businesses, why not get to know each other?”

Ayoungman lived on Siksika Nation but went to school and played hockey in Strathmore.

The town was quick to help make the powwow a reality, with council endorsing it unanimously.

“We are part of the reconciliation process across this country, and we want to do our part to make things better for our Siksika friends and neighbours when they come into Strathmore,” Mayor Pat Fule said.

“This is a great opportunity for our two communities to bond and it celebrates Siksika’s culture, culture from all different First Nations groups and it’s just a great celebration of life and what Kristian stood for.”

Hundreds gathered in Strathmore at the Lead by Example Powwow to celebrate Kristian Ayoungman’s life (CTV News Calgary/Nicole Di Donato).

Two Strathmore brothers, Brandon and Kody Giffen were convicted of manslaughter in Ayoungman’s death after initially being charged with first-degree murder.

Ayoungman’s family believes his death was the result of racism.

“The way my boy’s life was taken, it was wrong. The way the justice system gave that verdict, to me, it’s wrong,” Ayoungman-Hunt said.

Siksika Nation Chief Ouray Crowfoot hopes introducing the community to their culture and addressing past racism will help them move forward.

“You can’t deny some of the racist things that have happened in this community and other communities around the area, so you can’t just sweep it under the rug,” he said.

“The more we work together, the more we understand each other, the more we realize that we’re more similar than different.”

Crowfoot adds that powwows help people heal.

“There’s healing powers in music. There’s healing powers in dancing … It’s a way of celebrating, not celebrating a man’s death, but celebrating the life and the lives to come,” he said.

Ayoungman-Hunt agrees and says she would like to see this powwow continue into the future.

“Times need to change. People need to change. Communities need to change,” she said.

“If more people understood the history, there’d be less ignorance, there’d be less hatred, there’d be less lack of understanding and we’d get to know each other better.” 

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