The town of Strathmore partnered with Siksika Nation to cohost the first Lead by Example Powwow this weekend in Strathmore — a cultural celebration in honour of Kakato’si Kristian Ayoungman, who was shot to death four years ago.
Ayoungman excelled at everything he set his mind to. He was a hockey player, golfer and champion dancer.
Those who knew him said he lead by example.
“That’s exactly how he lived his life. He was a true leader,” said his mother Melody Ayoungman-Hunt.
“Anything you put in front of him he surpassed. He was just one of those great, remarkable kids.”
On Saturday, hundreds of people gathered in Strathmore at the Lead by Example Powwow, a celebration in honor of Ayoungman.
His mother thought a pow wow would be a way to bring together Strathmore locals and Siksika Nation residents. The town embraced the idea.
Ayoungman-Hunt was part of the spectacular Grand Entry that included dancers from across Canada and the U.S., as well as members of the RCMP and southern Alberta elected officials.
“I just felt so much love and so much connection and so much overwhelming gratitude for everyone that participated in making this day possible,” Ayoungman-Hunt said.
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“I’m filled with gratitude because everyone listened. Everyone pulled together in every way. This town of Strathmore took the time to learn with us. They got it and they are doing it.”
Strathmore’s mayor said the pow wow is an important step for the own and entire region’s reconciliation efforts.
“Strathmore was really blessed that Siksika Nation and Melodie — especially as the mother of a killed man — they wanted to use it as a catalyst to make positive change,” said Pat Fule on Saturday.
Fule said Ayoungman was a mentor and a role model to younger players and his death had a big impact on the community.
“As a former high school coach, I always followed the motto of ‘its deeds not words.’ It’s fine to do a land acknowledgment and to speak publicly about making things better, but unless you’re also doing the hard work to try to make things better, those are just words. This pow wow is a very powerful public show that we mean what we say here in Strathmore — when we want to make things better for our First Nations neighbours and friends,” Fule said.
Ayoungman-Hunt said it’s important to acknowledge that racism exists and to understand the history of First Nations.
“We can talk and talk about making change, but actually doing something about it — that’s the bigger thing. I knew our boy’s memorial was going to be big, but this became bigger than we expected.”
“I know he would be proud of us with what we’re doing because what happened to him was wrong. He knows we are doing right by everything.”
Ayoungman, a former Strathmore Wheatland Kings player was shot to death on March 17 2019.
Brandon Giffen and his brother Kody Giffen, were charged with first-degree murder in Ayoungman’s death.
Kody was sentenced to four years in prison on March 16, 2021, after pleading guilty to manslaughter in August 2020. Brandon was found guilty of manslaughter and acquitted of murder.
The powwow continues on Sunday, March 19.