One week after Nicola-Cree Belcourt died suspiciously near Victoria Quay in Port Alberni, her family gathered from as far away as Merritt to call her spirit home in a cultural ceremony.
Belcourt’s body was discovered on Roger Street near Millstone Park at approximately 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 2.
Members of the Tseshaht First Nation hosted Belcourt’s family and assisted with the ceremony. “It’s our way to make sure we take care of people,” said Ed Ross from Tseshaht. “They’re so far away from home we wanted to make sure we took care of them, make sure we had everything prepped so they could do their business here.”
Belcourt’s mother, Jacqueline Swakum, siblings Thomas Spence and Jaymie Spence along with cousin Fawn Adolph and other family members travelled from Merritt and Vancouver to call Nicola-Cree’s spirit home in a cultural ceremony.
Belcourt turned 30 two months before her death. A member of the Lower Nicola Indian Band, she moved from Merritt to Port Alberni two years ago. Her family had heard she had a boyfriend here, but her cousin, Fawn Adolph, said Belcourt was here to explore the area. It was her first real time away from the Lower Nicola.
“She was a very energetic, loving young lady,” she said. “She was so young. Coming to Port Alberni was a new journey for her, and sad to say this is where her journey ended.
“We just want Nicola to be remembered; her loss is very detrimental to our community and our family.”
The family lined the bottom of Roger Street for a few minutes, holding up photos of Belcourt and asking people to help them find out what happened to her.
“If there is any information out there we ask the individuals to reach out to the Port Alberni RCMP,” Adolph said.
Family members hung a red dress from a tree across the road from where Belcourt died. The dress symbolizes missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG).
They left following the ceremony to return home, where a wake/ fire will burn for 24 hours per day until funeral services are complete.
“We’re setting Nicola’s spirit free and (her family) is reclaiming her,” said Ross, who looked after the cultural aspect of the ceremony. “As hosts, as people of the territory…It was really important that we set that energy right because it was such a tragic event.”
Jaydin Stephen was one of two young men who came upon Belcourt in the early hours of April 2, 2022. She was lying on the side of the road at the end of Roger Street, near Millstone Park by Victoria Quay. Stephen was designated driver for a group of friends and was driving them home around 2:30 a.m. when he spotted Belcourt and attempted to administer first aid while waiting for first responders to arrive.
The two young men were invited to Saturday’s ceremony, as were firefighters and paramedics who tried to resuscitate Belcourt. “It really means a lot to be able to take part in healing and help them however possible in moving on,” Stephen said. “I just really hope the ceremony helped lift her into whatever comes next.”
Stephen echoed Adolph’s plea for someone to come forward with information on what happened to Belcourt.
Port Alberni RCMP Const. Richard Johns said “the General Investigation Section is working diligently to determine cause of death.”
Police are asking anyone with dash camera video who were in the area on April 2 between 1:30 a.m. and 2:45 a.m. or who may have witnessed anything of concern to call the Port Alberni detachment at 250-723-2424.
The family will hold a funeral service for Belcourt on Thursday, April 14 in Merritt.