METEPENAGIAG, N.B. — A funeral was held Friday in eastern New Brunswick for Rodney Levi, the 48-year-old Indigenous man from the Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation who was shot by an RCMP officer during a barbecue one week ago.
The private family service, with attendance limited to 50 because of COVID-19 restrictions, was held at the St. Thomas the Apostle Roman Catholic Church, west of Miramichi.
The community organized a healing walk to coincide with the service, which drew about 100 people. Some held signs with a photo of Levi and a demand for justice.
Known to many in the community as “Buckanee,” Levi was described in his obituary as an ambassador of the saying, ‘Live, love and laugh.’“
“Anyone who knew Rodney knew he had a passion for baseball and fishing,” the obituary says, noting that he had six sisters and three brothers. “When fishing, there wasn’t a part of the river he didn’t know.”
The father of three was also know for volunteering and helping others.
“His laugh and smile were contagious, and he loved his community as if they were his family, too.”
Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq First Nation Chief Bill Ward told reporters after the funeral that Levi would routinely stop by people’s homes to help them out, just to have a chat.
“If you were shovelling he would come help you,” he said. “If you were mowing your lawn he would come over and help you, help rake. Just to talk. Wouldn’t expect a dime from you for helping.”
The RCMP say officers were dispatched to a home near the First Nation on June 12 after someone complained about an “unwanted person.”
Ward previously said Levi was a troubled man who was dealing with mental issues. He said Levi was at the barbecue on Boom Road to seek guidance from a church minister. The minister later described Levi as a welcome guest.
The deadly shooting marked the second time in just over a week that police had killed an Indigenous person in New Brunswick, prompting protests and calls for an inquiry.
Chantel Moore was fatally shot on June 4, after an officer from the Edmundston Police Department was sent to her home to conduct a “wellness check.” The police department says the officer was confronted by a woman threatening him with a knife.
Quebec’s independent police watchdog agency is investigating the killings because New Brunswick does not have its own police oversight agency.
Earlier this week, 15 First Nations chiefs from across New Brunswick called on Premier Blaine Higgs to establish an independent, Indigenous-led commission of inquiry to investigate the shootings.
Chief Tim Paul of the Wotstak First Nation issued a statement Thursday to remind Higgs that all the chiefs made it clear what they wanted.
The premier has agreed Indigenous people should lead some kind of review, but he has said a public inquiry could take too long and might produce recommendations that will never be implemented.
Still, Higgs said his government remains open to holding an independent inquiry.
Ward on Friday called Higgs’s position “paternalistic” and “more of the same.”
“Regardless of how many times we say: ‘We want things this way. Please listen to us,’ it’s a, ‘No, we will do it this way, we know better,’ ” he said.
Ward said despite the shooting, many RCMP veteran officers are respected in his community. The police, he said, took time to get to know people, adding that many officers are going through a rough time since Levi’s killing “because they didn’t want this to happen.”
Ward described the officer who shot Levi as a relatively new recruit.
“We have plenty of veteran officers who have a great relationship with the community and know a lot of people, and this incident still happened with a new (recruit),” he said.
He called the shooting a sign that the system “is fundamentally broken” and needs to be reconsidered.