It was standing room only Wednesday at the sage-tinged Thunder Bay funeral service for Barbara Kentner, the Anishinaabe woman who died a little over five months after she was struck by a trailer hitch flung from the window of a moving car in what the family calls a targeted attack.
Moments before the service began, Kentner’s 16-year-old daughter Serena stood alone at the open casket. She kissed her mother once, paused, shook her head, and then stooped to kiss her mother a second time. Then her father, Alex Mazinakouskany, moved to stand beside her.
He began to sob loudly.
“I can’t believe you’re gone,” he said.
But she was, gone at 34, after months of suffering caused by the drive-by attack which happened shortly after 1 a.m. on Jan. 29 as she walked with her sister through a neighbourhood they’d known since childhood.
A car with four occupants was waiting, parked on the road, waiting for someone, anyone, when the two sisters came into view.
“Over the years, I seen Barbara grow up, little Barbie doll. She was so pretty. She still is. She had a nice soul. She got taken early from us, too early,” said her aunt Lana Kooshet. “It has been hard on all the family.”
The family smudged together around the casket before a four-man drum group began the service, their singing filling the chapel to the brim.
Then, an Anglican minister read from John 14: 1.
“Let not your hearts be troubled,” said Rev. Gordon Holroyd.
Thunder Bay Coun. Shelby Ch’ng read a verse from the book of Revelation about a new heaven and a new earth.
Nishnawbe Aski deputy Grand Chief Derek Fox was asked from the podium by Holroyd to read the Lord’s Prayer, but Fox left before the service began.
When Holroyd opened the microphone to anyone wishing to say something about Kentner, Erin Bottle sang a traditional Ojibway death song on a hand drum. Her voice quivering at times.
“Our sisters and our people deserve to be sung to,” she said after the service. “It’s a journey song for when they make their way to the ancestors.”
Rheal Twance, one of the drummers in the drum group, said his songs were also meant to “open doors” on Kentner’s journey across.
“This is a way of respecting the family, respecting Barb,” said Twance, before the service began. “The drum always lets me know what song to sing.”
While grief permeated the service, there was also an underlying sense of anger and frustration at the events that led to this early death.
Doctors told the family the impact of the trailer hitch ruptured Kentner’s intestine which caused a fungus to grow and consumed her organs and muscle mass. She withered away.
An 18-year-old named Brayden Bushby, who fancies pickup trucks, paintball and four-wheelers, is charged with aggravated assault in connection with the attack. He has not yet entered a plea.
According to the Crown handling the case, Thunder Bay police investigators are waiting for definitive results from an autopsy performed last week to determine whether the trailer hitch attack caused the death.
“I think the young man that was charged, I think the charges should be upgraded. It was premeditated. They planned it and the people that were in the vehicle, they had the power to stop that person,” said Annabelle Bell, who attended the funeral. “They should all be charged as accessories.”
The three other occupants have not yet been charged, but they are all expected to testify if Bushby’s case heads to trial.
The skies were grey over Thunder Bay and a light drizzle fell intermittently throughout the morning and afternoon. Dozens filled the pews at the Jenkens Funeral Home chapel and staff set up an overflow room with a screen showing the service.
The family provided a bowl with cigarettes and placed a basket with red tobacco bundles by the entrance to the chapel.
Tala King, 16, arrived late to the viewing because the city bus drove right by her as she stood at the bus stop. She was there to support her friend Serena.
“It breaks my heart that this happened to her. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” said King.
“I am not feeling good today. It is a sad day for Native people in Thunder Bay. It is a sad day for the family,” said Martina Smith. “There is nothing I could say but I have a broken heart.”
Out in the parking lot, after the casket was placed in the hearse for the journey to Sunset Memorial Gardens for the burial, Mazinakouskany’s bubbling anger finally burst.
“Fuck,” he shouted.