A tipi for awareness, a tipi for justice, and a tipi for remembrance

By Aaron Mahoney (@Mahones93 on Twitter)
November 29, 2018 - 3:46pm Updated: November 29, 2018 - 6:46pm

LETHBRIDGE - If you drive down 4 Avenue South this week, you can't miss it.

Riel Houle-Provost, the younger brother of Barney Provost who was killed when his car was struck by an oncoming vehicle travelling the wrong way on Highway 3 back in June, has set up a tipi in front of the Lethbridge Courthouse.

Houle-Provost did it late on Tuesday night in protest to a judge's decision to release a suspected impaired driver on bail.

62-year-old Douglas Bagnall was charged on Nov. 21 with impaired operation of a motor vehicle causing death, as well as operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration exceeding 80 milligrams causing death but was released on $300 bail earlier Tuesday.

Houle-Provost says the Medicine Tipi is called a Sharing Tipi.

"If you look at the design on the outside, there are people holding hands while standing on hills. It's the Piikani colours of red and black, and it symbolizes people coming together."

Barney was a Councillor for the Piikani Nation, and before he was hit and killed, he was driving westbound by Coalhurst after just buying a brand-new car for his wife Christy and drove it right off the lot.

"He was hit in a head-on collision, by a driver driving in the wrong direction. During the summer, we didn't know if he (the other driver)  was impaired or what the implications were. He was instrumental in doing a lot of positive things in our community and a great big brother. We were just kind of in the background all summer, we didn't know the name of the person who had done it, who he was, just that he was a 62-year-old man."

It's been hard for the family to accept what happened this week.

"The whole family went to court on Tuesday, it was very brief, and they adjourned it, and the last thing we heard was $300 bail. We all walked out, and we were pretty ticked off about it."

Houle-Provost runs a tipi camp, called Pale Horse Tipi Camp, and says it's pretty much what he does every summer.

"So, I was thinking what I could do with the resources that I had. I had my truck, I went and got my rails and the tipi, and we came and put the skeleton up, but it was too windy to put the rest of the canvass up. The family, we all came back the next day even though I was the only one here at 9 am, and we tacked it down and now it's here.

"I was planning on keeping it up until the next court date, however, I'm just trying to figure out how much support I can get here because there are other things I have to worry about as well."

He's planning to keep it up until Saturday, Dec. 1, and every evening they're going to have meals at 6 p.m. as a sort of community potluck.

"We're inviting everyone to come out and eat, and to participate in the different events we're going to have," Houle-Provost continued. "Hopefully some drumming and dancing if we can find some dancers and drummers, as well as storytelling. We're going to be telling stories about Barney and who he was."

Barney was an important individual in the Piikani nation community.

He was a sobriety activist, as Houle-Provost explained that he never touched alcohol or drugs, and he never even touched a cigarette.

"His friends would do it, but he would never do it, and there are numerous stories of Barney taking care of people when they were too drunk. That's who he was, he took care of people,"

 

Houle-Provost added.

That's the reason for the tipi, their family is trying to get people to understand how important Barney was to them.

He was also a teacher, with numerous degrees, and he also had a master's in education that he got from the University of Lethbridge.

On top of being an elected councillor and a teacher for so many years, Barney was also a principal at Tsuut'ina High School.

"He was an uncle, a son, a brother, and father most of all. He leaves behind four children, the oldest is 13 and her name is Tess and then Declan his youngest who's five as well as his wife Christy. They're all traumatized because Barney was the caretaker, he was the provider and his wife stayed home and took care of the kids, they had a very balanced life like that."

Houle-Provost says he's just trying to do his part with this tipi and mentioned that there have been people coming in from the community being so supportive.

"Bringing chairs in here, firewood, and bringing food and coffee. On the next court date, we want everyone to come. We've had a woman from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a couple of lawyers have come in, and even a few police officers have come in and acknowledged us and said there is a real problem with the bail system," Houle-Provost said, adding he doesn't think this should be taken very lightly.

"When you choose to be drunk and get behind the wheel and take someone's life, society reminds us every day that you can't do that. It's not right, you don't drive impaired period. There's no excuse for this, and I just want some justice for my brother to be honest because I know he'd be doing the same for me if the situations were reversed."

To set up a tipi on public ground outside the courthouse wasn't easy for Houle-Provost, and not just because of set-up.

"It was really hard to get the courage to come out and do this, I thought I was going to get arrested, to be honest with you," he said. "One of my friends, Jeff, is a sheriff at the courthouse and he's been kind of watching over us. These last couple of days have been pretty unique, but to us this guy getting bail so low, it's been a real slap in the face."

"I'm not a lawyer, I'm not a police officer, I'm not a judge. I'm just a guy who puts tipis up for tourists in the summertime, and this is all I can do right now."

He's depending on people to come together and help take care of this tipi, their family is calling it a peace tipi, but they need to draw some people to create awareness on these issues that they believe are being brushed under the rug.

All told, Houle-Provost has been really encouraged by the support his family has received thus far.

"Social media has really taken it. When we left the court on Tuesday there was nobody around, and I just felt people needed to know. That's why I needed to put this up, tipis are like magnets. I put so many up in the summertime on the reserve, and when they're up people of all nationalities come in from the highways to see them," he explained.

They have momentum right now, but Houle-Provost wants people to know that they're out there and need all the support they can get.

"We're asking people to donate firewood, we could use a couple more signs, and really whatever they can bring goes a long way. I guess if they don't have anything to give, they can just come in for a discussion about drunk driving and what we can do to prevent it."

Bagnall's next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 11, at the Lethbridge Courthouse at 9 a.m.

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