Grief could not be concealed by the face masks worn by friends and family mourning the loss of 17-year old Nevada Billy this week in northern B.C.
Nevada died Aug. 30 following a two-vehicle collision 145 km west of Williams Lake, at the intersection of Highway 20 and Redstone Reserve Road in the First Nations community of Tsideldel. Alexis Creek RCMP said alcohol is suspected to be a factor in the Sunday night collision, which sent four others to hospital.
“COVID-19 is going around but that’s not what’s killing us —it’s alcohol and drugs,” Chief Otis Guichon Sr. said during a candlelight vigil at the site of the crash Sept. 2.
“It’s sad to see a young person go like this. It’s us elders that are supposed to be going first, not the young.”
One of six Tsilhqot’in communities, Tsideldel First Nation, has now lost three youth within the last six weeks —two others have died from suspected drug overdoses, Guichon said.
Born in Kelowna and raised in and out of foster care, Nevada’s second oldest sister Shania said the siblings were not raised together in a traditional family environment.
Despite the hardships of all of them being placed in B.C.’s foster system, Nevada would always take the time to visit all of her siblings, which included Adrienne, 32, Shania, 22 and Harley, 14.
“It was so sudden,” said Adrienne, Nevada’s oldest sister who currently lives in Surrey.
“It was a shock. I didn’t want to believe it.”
Up until her death, Nevada was dividing her time between her grandfather’s home in Tl’etinqox (Anaham) and a youth home in Williams Lake. Her siblings say she talked about getting her own apartment one day. She had even purchased her own vehicle and after obtaining her Learner’s license was working to get her Novice license.
Both sisters agreed that Nevada was excited to soon return to school where she had just a few courses left to complete before graduating at the GROW Centre in Williams Lake.
“She always talked about wanting to become an Aboriginal lawyer,” Adrienne said.
The day before her death, Nevada had attended the funeral of another young person at Xeni Gwet’in First Nation, where she sang the warrior song.
Those mourning her loss sang the same song at her roadside vigil three days after the crash.
With a white wooden cross and flowers marking the scene, RCMP Const. Hogue Denommee, who was one of the responding officers Sunday night, directed traffic for the vigil.
Many held lit candles while others fought back tears as they drummed, sang and shared memories of Nevada.
“It was nice seeing how many people showed up especially during the pandemic,” Shania said. “I know that she touched a lot of people’s hearts.”
On the night of the crash, Jessica Setah of Yunesit’in First Nation said Nevada told her she was going to meet them in Williams Lake.
Time ticked by, and when Setah learned of the crash, not knowing its severity, messaged Nevada telling her she loved her and to call back no matter the time.
“I can’t believe she’s gone,” Setah said, noting how strong Nevada was.
“She definitely was a goal getter.”
Chief Guichon told Black Press Media he believes the use of drugs and alcohol has increased since the pandemic, partially due to the federal government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
He was going to bring forward those concerns at a Tsilhqot’in Nation meeting in Williams Lake on Sept. 3.
“I’ve been batting this around for the last couple of days thinking about how we move forward,” said Guichon. “We’re losing some young people that we shouldn’t be losing.”
Tsideldel member Joyce Cooper urged the community to treasure their youth who are often forgotten, despite being the future pf the nation.
“I hate to say it but this community is lost and we need to regain something,” she told the crowd, adding that traditional ceremonies could help reconnect to their culture.
As the flames subsided on a small fire burning juniper – representing Nevada’s spirit leaving Earth – Cooper closed the vigil with a song sang by her own grandmother each time she lost one of her children.
After the song attendees joined a young girl in chanting ‘I saw the light, I saw the light/No more darkness, no more night’ before dispersing.