Dozens of community members, family and friends gathered outside the site where Danielle Ballantyne died last week to pay tribute to the 36-year-old mother of four, remembered for her big heart and contagious smile.
“She loved everyone. She would always say, ‘I love you’ to everyone she met,” Danielle’s aunt Gail Ledoux said through tears to the crowd of mourners Saturday evening. “She was a kind-hearted woman.”
Her family also cared deeply for her in return, Danielle’s aunt Marilyn Hall said.
Family members and friends burned cedar and sage, handed out flowers and lit candles to the sound of prayers and traditional Indigenous songs.
Some like Hall and Ledoux travelled more than 400 km from the Grand Rapids area to be there.
“This tragedy is very hard,” Hall said.
Ballantyne’s body was discovered in an apartment building on Winnipeg’s Jarvis Avenue around 7 a.m. on Monday. Winnipeg police, some of whom were in attendance at the vigil, have since arrested two 15-year-olds in connection with her death.
The pair of suspects are also accused of killing a man in his 50s along with seriously assaulting another the same day.
Ballantyne was originally from Misipawistik Cree Nation in northern Manitoba, where she lost both parents— her father to a heart attack and her mother to a house fire.
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Lorraine Ballantyne told Global News her older sister moved to Winnipeg about 10 years ago.
“She was very, a protective sibling out of all of our family,” Lorraine said. “Her children were the most important thing in her life. She would do anything for them. She would go above and beyond. She didn’t have much, but what she did have she would give to us and her children.”
Lorraine’s sister battled drug addictions after she came to the city but reconnected with the family after turning her life around, she said.
Danielle experienced homelessness before she was killed and often visited N’Dinawemak at 190 Disraeli, her friends and relatives said.
She fell through the cracks of a system that doesn’t offer enough resources to Indigenous people who don’t live on reserves, her uncle Percy Ballantyne said. He called on local Indigenous organizations to take more action. Danielle’s family would forgive and pray for the teens now in custody, Percy added.
“If we fight fire with fire, that’s not going to be the way. It’s not going to solve nothing. It’s going to worsen things, so we need to go back to our culture, our value system and to be more kinder to one another and to support one another as Indigenous people,” he said.
Danielle’s funeral will be in Grand Rapids on Tuesday.