A grieving mother and community supporters staged a recent protest at Hagwilget Canyon Bridge near New Hazelton to raise awareness about the tragic death of her daughter, Kaylee Gunanoot.
The 29-year-old woman was found dead on June 17 on the Hagwilget First Nation Reserve. Her mother, Jennifer Gunanoot, believes her daughter was murdered.
In an emotional interview with The Terrace Standard, Gunanoot expressed her frustration with the lack of progress in the investigation into her daughter’s death. According to Gunanoot, the coroner initially promised to provide a report by July 10, but now it is expected at the end of August or the beginning of September.
According to Gunanoot, RCMP initially told her it was a fatal drug poisoning. However, a toxicology report she claims to have reviewed says otherwise. She plans to share this, along with the coroner’s report, to bring clarity about her daughter’s death to the community.
The July 28 protest was a call for awareness, justice and safety for all Indigenous people; it was attended by Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach, among others.
“We need justice for my daughter,” she said at the event. “I don’t wish this on anyone.”
Gunanoot called attention to the alleged prevalence of violence at the Hagwilget First Nation Reserve. She blamed the reserve’s security personnel for their negligent response to her daughter’s distress and criticized the Hagwilget Village Council for failing to hold them accountable.
She expressed disappointment over what she perceives to be a lack of urgency and proper investigation of her daughter’s case and criticized the Hagwilget Village Council for failing to hold the security service accountable.
“Nobody did a thing to help my daughter,” said Gunanoot, describing Kaylee as a beautiful person who was changing her life around.
Gunanoot believes there are community members withholding information that could be vital to the investigation.
Since her daughter’s death, Gunanoot and her family no longer feel safe and secure. Since speaking out about her daughter, said she has been contacted by other mothers with similar stories of loss.
“We’re just fighting for a lot of awareness right now so that people know this is what’s happening to our Indigenous people and not just along Highway 16.”
Neither BC Coroners Service or the Hagwilget Band Office responded to repeated requests for comment by The Terrace Standard. The Hazelton RCMP declined to comment, referring all inquiries to the BC Coroners Service, which is now leading the investigation.
Viktor Elias joined the Terrace Standard in April 2023.