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Saskatoon woman raising money for memorial to Starlight Tour victim Neil Stonechild

May 15, 2024

Stonechild’s death led to judicial inquiry, firing of 2 police officers

An old-looking photo of a man with long hair in a ball cap.
Neil Stonechild froze to death in 1990. His death led to an RCMP investigation, a judicial inquiry and the firing of two police officers. (CBC Archive)

CBC Indigenous: A Saskatoon woman wants to make sure future generations do not forget Neil Stonechild.

Sarah Smokeyday is raising money for a memorial.

“Future generations will continue telling his story and acknowledging our community’s history and what has happened to Indigenous people within our home community,” she said.

Stonechild’s freezing death three decades ago in Saskatoon led to an RCMP investigation, a judicial inquiry and the firing of two police officers.

Workers discovered the teens’s frozen body in a field in the city’s north industrial district in November 1990. At the time, police dismissed his death as accidental, saying the 17-year-old had gotten drunk and wandered off 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 to taking Indigenous men to the edge of town and dropping them off in freezing temperatures. The practice was known as Starlight Tours.

The province ordered an inquiry into Stonechild’s death and the police investigation. In October 2004, Justice David Wright concluded that the 17-year-old was in police custody shortly before he died.

Smokeyday said she got the idea to honour Stonechild after seeing a video on social media by Anthony Masuskapoe. In the widely-viewed segment, Masuskapoe is at Woodlawn Cemetery trying to find Stonechild’s grave.

The gravesite’s precise location is registered at the cemetery main office, but Masuskapoe could find no headstone or conventional marker.

Smokeyday’s mother knew Stonechild personally and was upset by the absence of a marker. Smokeyday agreed that the teen’s death must be remembered and she took to social media to raise cash to pay for a gravestone.

woman in graveyard
Sarah Smokeyday at the plot where Neil Stonechild was originally buried. (CBC)

After raising about $5,000, she discovered why there is no marker at the gravesite. Neil Stonechild is no longer buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, despite what the civic records indicate.

On the eve of the 2003 judicial inquiry, RCMP got permission to exhume Stonechild’s body for a second autopsy. They then contacted his mother, Stella Bignell.

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

After learning that Stonechild’s body is not in Saskatoon, Smokeyday reached out to Stella Bignell and discussed creating a memorial for her son in the city.

Smokeyday also made new posts on social media explaining the latest development. She’s offering to refund money to anyone who wants their contribution for a grave marker returned.

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

“I’ve had people contact me from Manitoba and Ontario, and we very quickly have gained more than $5,000 to go toward what we had originally planned to be headstone.

“But we’re going to shift for a memorial for Neil.”


Dan Zakreski

Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.