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Community comes together after tragedy

Courtesy Watshennine Jolene Bear

Just over a week after a heart-wrenching car crash took the life of 18-year-old Tsótewe Stacey, hundreds of Kahnawa’kehró:non came together to show love and support for her family, raising $16,785.78 with a blanket dance, penny fair, and medicine lacrosse game.

“We clearly saw how our people can come together in such a sad time in our lives,” said Tsótewe’s mother, Watshennine Jolene Bear. “You all have lifted our spirits and made us very proud of where we come from!”

The effort began with Kaniataroton Deer’s decision to postpone the fourth week of his Fall Ball lacrosse league in recognition of the community’s grief after the loss of Tsótewe on September 15. However, after someone suggested they play just one game for the family, Deer realized the sport could play a role in helping Kahnawa’kehró:non process the tragic loss of a young community member.

“Simple as this: the medicine game, it did its medicine that day. It did its medicine and then some that day,” said Deer.

Before long, more ideas were integrated into the September 23 event, which quickly grew into a major fundraiser, surpassing Deer’s original goal of raising $500 to help the family through an unimaginably difficult time.

Deer estimates as many as 500 people attended, with about 100 of those being lacrosse players. Around 70 men were on the field at once. “It was amazing to see,” he said.

“It was a sad reason for the cause, which really broke my heart, but to have everybody come out like that, it was extraordinary.”

A long list of Kahnawa’kehró:non and local businesses showed their support for the family by donating time, supplies, and other forms of assistance to help make the fundraiser possible.

“The feeling was something you can’t describe,” said Carla Skye, who contributed a ribbon shirt to the penny fair. “You had to be there and feel it. It just went right through your body. It was just amazing to be able to do that for the Stacey family.”

Skye first heard about the event because she is a lacrosse parent who received a notice from Deer about it – there were two lacrosse games, a men’s game and a kids’ game.

“It started out as we’re going to do a medicine lacrosse game on Saturday. Next thing you know, somebody said let’s do a blanket dance, does anybody have a blanket? How about we do a penny fair also?” said Skye, noting that everything came together in only three days.

“It just shows that our community always pulls through for each other in a tragic time,” said Skye. “I’m very grateful to be a part of that community, a very compassionate community in a time of need.”

Her son, only five years old, was able to participate in the kids’ game. “I was just honoured to have him be a part of that,” she said.

Skye was far from alone in bringing her young children to support the family.

“There was a great turnout, many families with children who participated in the penny fair then watched the children play lacrosse,” said Peggy Mayo-Standup.

“When a tragedy hits our community, we come together to help each other out.”

While she did not know Tsótewe personally, Mayo-Standup knows Bear and other family members in mourning. She wanted to attend to show her support and to honour Tsótewe.

“My heart goes out to the family of Tsótewe Stacey. She will never be forgotten,” said Mayo-Standup.

Organizations also took part in the events of the day, such as Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS), which had issued a statement on September 17 highlighting the availability of counselling and noting the shock and disbelief on Kahnawa’kehró:non.

“As part of the KSCS prevention team, we made three types of soup for the family and community,” said Kara Diabo. “Our hearts and minds were with the family at this difficult time.”

While Deer was widely praised for leading the effort to support the family of Tsótewe, he emphasized that it was a community effort. “It just shows what our community’s capable of when we come together,” he said.

“I’d like to say niawenhkó:wa to Kaniataroton Deer, the sponsors, the women who cooked, and mostly for all the young boys and the men who played our game,” said Bear. 

“We’re hoping once a year we can do this in Tsótewe’s memory. Konnorónhkhwa’ – love from Jolene, Skaroniati, and family.”

Tomorrow’s first annual duck race, organized by the Kateri Memorial Foundation (KMF), has been renamed Tso Tso’s Duck Race in honour of Tsótewe Stacey.

This article was originally published in print on Friday, September 29, in issue 32.39 of The Eastern Door.

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

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Marcus is managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.

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Marcus is managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.