Shooting death of young Indigenous man forces rural community to confront racism
In many ways, Kristian Ayoungman was seen as an example of reconciliation in action. He lived on the Siksika First Nation, but growing up, he went to school and played hockey in Strathmore, Alta., a small town 20 kilometres north of the reserve.
He was seen as a bridge between the two communities in which he lived — until the night in March when he was shot and killed.
A couple of days later, two men from Strathmore were charged with first degree murder in the 24-year-old's death.
"My son was a very, very good kid, and well loved and liked by everybody," said Melodie Ayoungman, Kristian's mother. "And the reality behind it is, it was an act of racism that took his life. And that's hard for me to comprehend."
Ayoungman said she believes her son's death was the result of racism, because of what happened in the hours before the shooting.
Kristian, a champion pow-wow dancer on the reserve, was also a hockey star in town. On March 17, he played in an alumni hockey game in Strathmore.
Kristian and his friends Brooker Prettyyoungman, Ryley McMaster and Breanna Crawler went to a local pub after the game. They say at the end of the night an exchange with strangers outside the bar led to a fight that was peppered with racial slurs.
"He was like just calling me names, andhe told me 'to go back to the f--king reserve you f--king dirty Indians … get the f--k out of here,'" Crawler said.
She added that she didn't know the man who yelled at her, but now believes it was Kody Giffen, one of the men charged with Ayoungman's murder.
"I was looking at him and I was like, 'Are you serious? Like, don't talk to me like that.' I'm like, that's racist, right?"
Crawler, McMaster and Prettyyoungman say the altercation didn't last long and the two groups separated.
They ran into each other again shortly afterwards, but this time, they say the group of men was larger and they had weapons.
Crawler said when she and her friends saw a gun, they got into their truck and tried to leave. They said the men got into another vehicle and chased them out of town.
Crawler was driving the truck and headed toward Siksika when she heard a gunshot.
"I looked in the rear-view mirror. And by that time, that white car was behind me ... I seen it stop in like five seconds, it was like really fast. We heard a shot," Crawler said.
"I felt something on my back … and I was thinking, like, I was thinking to myself did I get shot? Did I get shot? …. And then Kristian said, 'They got me, bro. They got me.'"
Ayoungman had been shot. His friends got him out of the truck, and he died on the side of the road south of Strathmore.