The memorial display in the Samson Cree Nation band office window. (Photo courtesy of Samson Cree Nation)

Samson Cree Nation memorial display honours murder victim Billie Johnson

By Chevi Rabbit For Ponoka News

Samson Cree Nation (SCN) erected a memorial at the band office to honour the life of Billie Johnson. The body of 30-year-old homicide victim Johnson from SCN was located this week after an extensive search by Edmonton Police Services, her family and supporters.

“I think at times like this people feel helpless. They want to do something to help but don’t know what to do,” said Debra Buffalo, manager of SCN’s Community Initiatives Program.

“Jamie Smallboy lives in Vancouver British Columbia. She is closely connected to the family. She reached out to me to see if we could help. I mentioned to her that we had a red tree and if we could light it up as a reminder that the late Billie Johnson was missing,” said Buffalo.

Since the arrest of Kenneth Courtorielle back in February, it was determined that Johnson was deceased.

The thought behind the memorial display was to create awareness and keep the tree lighted until Johnson’s body was found.

“The idea was similar to, A Candle in the Window to Light Her Way,” said Buffalo.

Buffalo reached out to Cilia Swampy and put the memorial display in their space at the SCN band office and they agreed.

“Although, I couldn’t physically go out and help with the search, it was a way to do something rather than nothing,” said Buffalo.

Buffalo then reached out to Donesse Buffalo-Bull who designed the skirt with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) design.

“This piece was an emotional one for sure. I always wanted to try to help in any way I can on spreading awareness for MMIW especially when it hit our community as I knew them beautiful women,” said Bull-Buffalo.

“This was my first MMIW skirt, So when I was approached to do one, I was truly honoured; I wanted to make it special for the women of Maskwacis, and most importantly to honour the MMIW.

“They were also someone’s mother, daughter, sister, auntie and niece,” she said.

“I felt that I accomplished my goal of making it special for the women of Maskwacis, as this skirt hung in the window as a beacon of hope for ‘late Billies’ … prayers for the families and most importantly the babies,” said Bull-Buffalo.

Many Maskwacis residents also went to Enoch First Nation to help with the search of the body, including Maskwacis resident Mason Buffalo. He took his horse out that way to help with the search.

“The Ribbon Skirt became an important part of the memorial display because it symbolizes the remembrance for all of the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Men (MMIWM). There are many,” said Buffalo.

“There are many young women in my family. My daughters, my nieces, granddaughters, chapons (grandchildren). I always worry for their safety,” she said.

“I think the important thing is to teach them about healthy relationships, to communicate to family their travel plans when they leave and to call or text when they arrive safely at their destination,”

“It is important to teach them basic survival skills, how to make smart choices and not put themselves in harm’s way.

“We need to have a girl code. Something that is universal so that a girl who is in a dangerous situation can send a text message to someone that she may be in danger,” said Buffalo.

“Locally, we need our people to be diligent. Diligent and take notice when we have strangers lurking in our Nations.”

According to Buffalo, there were recent incidents reported in Maskwacis of a unknown person or persons allegedly stalking women in the community. Posts on social media claimed the suspect vehicle was a black van with blacked out windows.

Maskwacis RCMP were contacted for comments about the van but did not respond by press time and did not confirm if any arrests were made.