By Barb Nahwegahbow
“One of our young warriors has left us,” said Traditional Knowledge Keeper Ed Sackenay. He was speaking at a memorial ceremony on February 12 for Kiowa Wind McComb. Twenty-year old Kiowa, a member of Cape Croker First Nation was the victim of a stabbing on February 9 in Toronto’s Jane and Lawrence area. The memorial was hosted at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) where Kiowa had worked as an intern for the past year in the ROM Learning Department. It was co-hosted by the Native Women’s Resource Centre.
“He lived a mere 20 years, short years. Kiowa Nodin McComb. Just like a gust of wind, that’s how his life was. But that gust of wind touched a lot of people,” said Sackenay. “I feel so blessed that he was part of my life even for a short while.”
The people touched by Kiowa filled the theatre at the ROM. Their words were a testament to his legacy, and as they spoke, many were overcome by emotion at their sadness and sense of loss.
The last time Leslie McCue saw Kiowa was the previous week when they co-facilitated the ROM Youth Cabinet, a group that Kiowa helped create. They had a sharing circle, said McCue, and, “he talked about how excited he was to get accepted for school and he spoke highly of his girlfriend and his family. “It’s just really sad to see somebody go who was so excited about life and had so much going for him. It was a real honour to work with him.” McCue sits on the ROM Indigenous Advisory Circle as a youth member.
Sam Kloestra, a member of ROM’s Youth Cabinet said he was devastated at the news of Kiowa’s death. “He embodied all of our Seven Grandfather teachings,” he said. “Kiowa was respectful, he was brave and he showed unconditional love and kindness to every person he met, and he inspired the same in every person he came across. But above all, he was a kind man.”
Kiowa was a true success story, said J’net Ayayqwayaksheelth, Aboriginal Outreach and Learning Coordinator at ROM. She hired Kiowa for the internship position, “because we needed somebody who was willing to step up in front of a group and own their identity,” she said. “Even though he had big green eyes and curly hair, he knew who he was and was very proud of his ancestry.”
He continued to impress Ayayqwayaksheelth during his year at the ROM. He wasn’t a statistic, she said. “Kiowa was not spiraling, he was not devastated by life where he had no goals. The boy had goals and he would tirelessly chip away at them. He wanted to live a good life and he was doing what he could to make that happen.” He planned to take a photography course, she said, and mentor with the museum’s in-house photographer to document the Aboriginal collection and help with promotion of the Indigenous learning program. His long term career goal was to take a Family Support Program and engage the youth by using the arts.
“Everyone that Kiowa touched will have had their lives enriched by him,” said Wendy Ng, Manager of Learning at ROM. She watched him grow, “from a shy young man to a confident young man greeting the public,” she said. He was pivotal in making the Youth Cabinet grow, nourishing it and helping it grow. Kiowa also made a drum for ROMs teaching collection and, “I’m so thankful we have that drum and that he is still with us in that way,” said Ng.
The CEO and Director of ROM, Dr. Mark Engstrom said, “Kiowa helped our ROM family. He helped build bridges and relationships with the Indigenous community. He served as a role model to the members of our staff and the outside community alike and he was really liked in the institution.”
In remembrance of Kiowa, ROM has created the Kiowa Wind McComb Internship. “It will help Indigenous young people work with the Learning Department to continue his work,” said Wendy Ng.