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Communities come together as youth murder trial wraps up in Williams Lake

Indigenous community members focus on support, healing for all families involved in tragedy

Indigenous community members from across the Cariboo Chilcotin gathered outside the Williams Lake Courthouse Thursday morning (Feb. 1) to show support and gather strength as a murder trial involving youth nears completion.

Around 75 people formed a circle for the ceremony, including First Nations leaders, victim services workers, elders, RCMP officers, lawyers for Crown and defence, sheriffs and family members to drum, sing and show support for the families of the victim and the accused.

“When things like this happen in small communities such as Esk’et it impacts the whole community,” said Esk’et Chief Fred Robbins.

“This is what we do - we sing from here, from our hearts, to help us heal in a positive way, and give ourselves the strength to live another day,” he said, patting his heart. “I want to thank all the drummers for coming. I want to thank Crown Counsel, I want to thank everyone who has been part of this trial.”

Waylon Harry, now 25, is charged with the second degree murder of Kendra Samson, who was 19 at the time of her death.

Harry was arrested and charged on Dec. 20, 2021, the day of Samson’s death.

There is a publication ban in place which protects the information shared at trial until its conclusion.

RCMP and paramedics responded to the 911 call for help on the Monday morning at Esk’et, located about a 40-minute drive south of Williams Lake.

The trial began on Monday, Jan. 15 and is scheduled to finish Friday, Feb. 2, with Crown and defence giving their final submissions.

Outside the courthouse before the proceedings got underway Thursday, those gathered sang the Women’s Warrior Song, Men’s Warrior Song, Honour Song and Gratitude Song.

“We ask you to keep in your prayers tonight the families and communities that are struggling and suffering, abusing drugs and alcohol, that we find a way to support one another,” said Chief Robbins. “Our community has been impacted as a whole. We’ve been divided and we need to heal.”

Robbins said it is difficult to heal on your own.

“Swallow your pride and ask for that help when you need it. You will find the support but you have to ask for it.”

He also asked everyone to keep in their prayers the murdered and missing women, people who are on the streets struggling with drugs and alcohol abuse.

Irene Johnson, a cultural worker and Esk’et council member, said they were supporting everyone connected to the tragedy.

“We’re praying for both sides of the families, make sure they all know they’re Esk’etemc and we’re here to support,” Johnson told the Tribune. “Unfortunate things happen all the time … this was really sad for our young people all around.”

Johnson and Robbins thanked Crown Counsel, BC Emergency Health Services and BC Sheriffs Office for the work they do behind the scenes, especially for the trial.

“I know your jobs are difficult and you probably see things like this all the time. I know you all understand our history over the last 150 years. It’s going to take another 150 years to get over the atrocities that happened to our children,” she said.

Johnson added as a people, they want to move forward.

Johnson herself, lost her own sister Rose Marie Roper in 1967.

She was murdered and her body was left at the Lac La Hache dump.

The chief said is not an easy time for anybody, but it is part of the healing process.

Originally the trial was to resume at 10 a.m. Thursday, however, the court pushed it back an hour out of respect for the ceremony.

Supreme Court Justice Marguerite Church is presiding over the trial, which members of the Esk’et community have been able to view over Microsoft Teams, Johnson said.

READ MORE: Man, 23, charged in death of woman, 19, at Esk’etemc near Williams Lake

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