Blue Gene Lonechild was born in Vancouver on May 15, 1983, to his mother, Spirit Lonechild, a peace activist, and a father he would barely know. Blue was the eldest of Spirit’s three children and spent his first few years in a high-rise apartment with his mother and her best friend, Cindy, whom he called “Dad.” “I guess I was the more authoritarian one,” says Cindy. “Spirit usually said yes.”
Spirit vowed to give her son everything she never had. “I even let him pick the menu for all our dinners,” she says. “Beef liver was his favourite. He could eat a whole package in one sitting.” Blue met his biological father twice: once in Vancouver when, says Spirit, the man took Blue from his crib and staggered drunk down Davies Street dodging police cars, and again at 12, in an arranged meeting at Port Angeles Island in Washington. “Blue wasn’t impressed,” says Spirit.
Spirit and Blue moved to the Lazy River trailer court in Port Coquitlam, B.C., when Blue was three. Blue toured the trailer court grounds on his Big Wheel in the spring and skated the Coquitlam River in the winter. “We would sing all the way to the ice,” says Spirit. “A combination of native and English songs, but Tears in Heaven was one of his favourites.” Blue was bold and kind. He pulled his baby teeth out at the age of six and used the funds deposited under his pillow to buy his mother carnations. “He treated women with a gentleman kindness,” says Spirit.
He wasn’t all that keen on school, and skipped class constantly. When he was nine, Spirit hired a native liaison to fix her son’s truancy problem; stymied, the man offered Blue $10 a week to attend classes. He went to school immediately. “He always wanted a job,” says Spirit.
In 1995, a strange man started stalking the Lonechild family late at night. Spirit kept watch, staying up almost till dawn. Blue, then 12, took over for her every day at 5 a.m. so that his mother could get some sleep. When the stalker broke into their house one night, it was Blue who phoned 911. Nobody was hurt, and the man was picked up by police a few days later, but Spirit was outraged when she learned that he wouldn’t be charged. She contacted Steve Carpenter in nearby Surrey, whose daughter Melanie had been abducted and murdered. The two decided to walk from B.C. to Parliament Hill in Ottawa to protest the over-lenient penalties being given to violent criminals. Blue and his younger siblings, Dallas, 8, and Lace, 4, joined their mother on the road. Blue walked 12 hours straight on the first day and, says Spirit, “did not complain once.”
At 15, Blue left school for good. He found a job working as a roofer—he also sold handmade dream catchers and native headdresses to tourists on the side. “People from all over the world loved his work,” says Spirit. He also began drinking. “He works like a man,” argued a fellow roofer to Spirit, “so he should drink like a man.” But his drinking increased. So at 19, he moved to his mother’s birthplace, White Bear First Nation reserve in Saskatchewan, in the hope of curbing it. He returned, clean, to Port Coquitlam a year later, surprising Spirit on Mother’s Day. It didn’t last. After falling back into old habits, he left B.C. shortly after with his girlfriend, first for Calgary, then for Nova Scotia.
By the late 2000s, Blue had switched from roofing to landscaping; Spirit was still sending him $40 a week and they spoke on the phone every day. When he and his girlfriend broke up after six years, he moved to Ottawa. In March 2009, Spirit got a call from the Ottawa Hospital’s Civic Campus. Blue had fallen down a flight of concrete stairs. He suffered brain damage and lost his short-term memory. Spirit flew to Ottawa and moved her son into the Shepherds of Good Hope shelter. There, Blue was a favourite. He made French toast for everyone and woke friends up with pillow fights. He relapsed occasionally at a local bar, but was never a problem. Spirit once got a call from an Ottawa constable who told her how funny and good-natured her son was.
Earlier this year, Blue decided he wanted to come home. Spirit booked him a flight for June 15 to Burnaby, B.C., where she now lives. But on May 17, Blue was attacked outside the shelter by a man police had asked to leave the property a few hours before. Blue was pushed to the ground and his head hit the cement. He was rushed to the hospital, where Spirit sang him songs from his youth until he died of head injuries on June 3. He was 28.