09:00 Sep 24th, 2022
Tragedies unite Humboldt Broncos mom and James Smith Cree Nation artist
By: Mickey Djuric
Source: The Canadian Press
Celeste Leray-Leicht received many condolence gifts after the Humboldt Broncos bus crash that claimed the life of her son, but it was a beaded green and yellow ribbon with a white heart that stood out.
Leray-Leicht wore it for years after her son Jacob Leicht died. It now lives on her vehicle's visor, next to a photo of her children when they were little, alongside a poppy.
She always felt a connection to the beaded ribbon because of the heart.
"My son Jacob, he was a Valentine baby, so I'm drawn to hearts," Leray-Leicht said from her home in Humboldt, Sask., east of Saskatoon.
On April 6, 2018, near Tisdale, Sask., 16 people were killed and 13 were injured when an inexperienced truck driver ran a stop sign, crashing into a bus that was taking the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team to a playoff game.
Leray-Leicht's son played with the Broncos and was 19 when he died in the crash.
She never knew who gifted her the beaded pin, but she found out when she headed out to James Smith Cree Nation, northeast of Saskatoon, to drop off food and other donations earlier this month.
Bernard Constant Community School on the reserve has become a gathering hub after a stabbing rampage on Sept. 4 that killed 10 people, nine of whom were James Smith Cree Nation members. Eighteen others were injured. Both suspects have died.
The school is where funerals and wakes were held, where volunteers continue to cook throughout the day to keep members fed as they recover. It's also where people come to pray.
On Sept. 11, it became the place where two women, dealing with devastating loss, came face to face for the first time.
While in the school's gym, Leray-Leicht met Lissa Bear, who is a member of James Smith Cree Nation, and has been grieving alongside her community.
She's also the Indigenous artist who anonymously gifted her the beaded ribbon that had always reminded Leray-Leicht of Jacob.
To Leray-Leicht's surprise, Bear had approached her saying she had sent her the pin years ago.
"And I said 'I just looked at that pin half an hour ago," Leray-Leicht said. "We were kindred spirits. We instantly hit it off."
Leray-Leicht said it was remarkable to meet Bear, despite the tragedies that unite them.
"I think God is in the details and I don't really believe in coincidences too much. I think we'll become good friends," said Leray-Leicht. "It was just so special to me."
Bear declined to comment, but gave consent to Leray-Leicht to share the story.
Humboldt and James Smith Cree Nation are 125 kilometres apart, but are connected through their grief.
Since the mass stabbing, families from Humboldt have silently attended funerals, donated food and offered support to people in the Indigenous community.
"As adults and leaders in the community, it's our responsibility to try and find as many supports as we can for our youth and for our adults without reliving the trauma over and over again," Leray-Leicht said.
Students in Humboldt wrote messages of hope on hearts for James Smith Cree Nation, something a nearby community did for them in 2018 after the bus crash.
At a vigil in Humboldt on Sept. 14, the hearts were placed in baskets alongside chocolate Hershey hugs, and were given to James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns. They asked him to pass them along to the youth of his community.
"When asked 'what do you need?' and they say prayers, I can relate," said Leray-Leicht, who helped plan the vigil. "That's all I remember thinking — 'That's what we needed, too.' Prayers to lift us up to survive this devastating loss."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.