Saskatoon woman is raising money for a memorial for Starlight Tour victim Neil Stonechild


A Saskatoon woman wants to make sure future generations don't forget Neil Stonechild.

Sarah Smokeyday is raising money for a memorial.

“Future generations will continue to tell his story and acknowledge the history of our community and what happened to Indigenous peoples in our home community,” she said.

Stonechild's cold death three decades ago in Saskatoon led to an RCMP investigation, a coroner's inquest and the firing of two police officers.

Workers discovered the teenager's frozen body in a field in the city's northern industrial area in November 1990. At the time, police dismissed his death as an accident, saying the 17-year-old was drunk, ran away and collapsed.

Stonechild's mother and family never accepted the police explanation and unsuccessfully pushed for a broader and deeper investigation.

The case was reopened a decade later when city police admitted taking indigenous men to the outskirts of the city and dropping them off in freezing temperatures. The practice was known as Starlight Tours.

The province ordered an investigation into Stonechild's death and the police investigation. In October 2004, Judge David Wright concluded that the 17-year-old had been in police custody shortly before his death.

Smokeyday said she came up with the idea to honor Stonechild after seeing a video of Anthony Masuskapoe on social media. In the much-watched segment, Masuskapoe is at Woodlawn Cemetery trying to find Stonechild's grave.

The exact location of the gravesite is recorded in the cemetery's main office, but Masuskapoe was unable to find a gravestone or conventional marker.

Smokeyday's mother knew Stonechild personally and was upset about the lack of a marker. Smokeyday agreed that the teen's death should be remembered and took to social media to raise money for a headstone.

Sarah Smokeyday at the site where Neil Stonechild was buried.Sarah Smokeyday at the site where Neil Stonechild was buried.

Sarah Smokeyday at the site where Neil Stonechild was buried.

Sarah Smokeyday at the site where Neil Stonechild was originally buried. (CBC)

After raising about $5,000, she discovered why there is no marker at the grave site. Neil Stonechild is no longer buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, contrary to civic records.

On the eve of the inquest in 2003, RCMP received permission to exhume Stonechild's body for a second autopsy. They then contacted his mother, Stella Bignell.

“After we exhumed him, I told the police to take him back to Wayway [Waywayseecappo First Nation]. “We had a service there for him,” Bignell said.

After learning that Stonechild's body was not in Saskatoon, Smokeyday contacted Stella Bignell and discussed building a memorial for her son in the city.

Smokeyday also released new posts on social media explaining the latest development. She offers a refund to anyone who wants their contribution back for a gravestone.

“I was surprised at how quickly everything happened,” she said.

“I was contacted by people from Manitoba and Ontario and we very quickly raised over $5,000 to fund what we originally planned to be a headstone.

“But we will campaign for a memorial for Neil.”