KENORA – NEWS — A Grassy Narrows family have launched a crowdsourcing initiative to offer a reward for information leading to an arrest in the attempted murder and robbery of twenty-two-year-old Anishinaabe father, Christian Henry, 8 months ago.
Henry was attacked and robbed on the morning of October 2nd 2016, only hours after being released from the police station. Henry was in a coma for four days at a Winnipeg hospital after the attack, followed by 3 months in the intensive care unit.
On October 2, police and ambulance were called to the scene in downtown Kenora after Henry had been stabbed repeatedly in the back, arms and head. Doctors determined that there was intent to kill.
Prior to his release from custody on October 1 2016, Christian Henry had been picked up by police for breaching bail conditions on or around September 30. Circumstances relating to that incident also remain unclear.
While Henry has almost no memory of being attacked on the night he was released from custody, the police have not independently found any evidence in the case, and have failed to obtain video that likely had images of Henry with his attackers, according to Henry’s mother.
The family however, has provided leads, including about individuals known to Henry who were seen wearing shoes likely to be those stolen from Henry on the night he was attacked.
The family in a statement say, “Police have not investigated the individuals. Instead they have repeatedly implied the attack was Henry’s fault, and they have focused more on his personal life than on any evidence he has been able to offer them, according to his mother, who describes the police inaction as disappointing but not unexpected”.
“There are so many unsolved and mishandled cases where Anishinaabe young people have been killed, attacked or gone missing,” says Lorenda Kokopenace. “We know the police don’t care about us,” she says.
Christian Henry is the first cousin of Azraya Ackabee-Kokopenace, and his mother Lorenda Kokopenace has been outspoken in demanding justice for her niece’s in-custody death in April of last year. The family is currently fighting for an inquest to be called into the circumstances surrounding her death.
Shockingly, Azraya was the fourth member of their family to die in police custody in the last 25 years.
In 1999, Lorenda Kokopenace’s grandmother, Eliza Keewatin, 57 at the time, died in a Kenora police holding cell, stabbed in her cell after having been picked up for public intoxication. She was the fifth Anishinaabe person to die in a Kenora police cell that year.
In 1992, two of Eliza Keewatin’s sons, Elvis and Morris Keewatin—Lorenda’s uncles—also died in police custody, drowning after having been abandoned on an Island by the OPP.
When Eliza Keewatin died in a police jail cell in Kenora in 1999, she had already testified at the inquest into the death of her sons, six years earlier. That inquest had already made recommendations that were supposed to keep Indigenous people safe when in police custody, and to put a stop to racism against Anishinaabe people by the police in Kenora.
Last month, yet another Kenora Coroner’s inquest, this time for the 2012 in-custody death of Gloria Assin, another Grassy Narrows band member, had to again recommend that local police “have officers take Indigenous history, intercultural competency and anti-racism training.”
Recommendations at the 1993 inquest into the Keewatin deaths had said a similar thing: police “should have training in Ojibway culture and be familiar with the background and history of the community.”
Since someone tried to kill him nearly 9 months ago, Christian Henry has suffered from severe anxiety and stress. The lack of information about his case and lack of action from the police are only making the trauma worse for him and his family, says his mother.
“Knowing that there is evidence out there that they could find, and that this is a pattern with them not investigating cases when young Anishinaabe people are killed or attacked, I don’t just worry about my son and daughters and my family,” Lorenda Kokopenace says, “I worry for all Anishinaabe people in a city where the police still don’t seem to care if we live or die.”
Kokopenace is hoping to be able to crowd source a reward for information leading to an arrest or closure in the case. “We have to find a way for the community to find the answers ourselves,” says Kokopenace about the page.
A fundraising page, gofundme.com/KenoraJustice, has been set up by Lorenda Kokopenace, mother of Christian Henry, himself a young father of two.
Christian Henry has said he wants half of the money raised through the Go Fund Me page, to go towards the #Justice4Azraya campaign that is pushing for an inquest into her death, and for changes in the system that let her down. If no one comes forward with information leading to an arrest, the other half will go to help Christian recover and to help him care for his young daughter and son.