Friends, family and community members are mourning the loss of Taran Kootenhayoo, a Vancouver-based Indigenous artist, actor and playwright.
Kootenhayoo, 27, was found unresponsive in his apartment on Dec. 31, the day that he was supposed to move, said his older sister Cheyanna Kootenhayoo.
“He's very loving and he's very thoughtful and he just welcomes everyone he meets into his arms … He was always happy, always making jokes, making people laugh,” she said.
When the news of Kootenhayoo’s passing broke, there was an outpouring of love and grief from people in the communities he was part of. A GoFundMe page to raise money for funeral arrangements and to support his family as they grieve raised more than $56,000 in two days.
Cheyanna says she and the rest of the family are still waiting on details from the coroner on the exact reason he “moved on to the spirit world.”
Kootenhayoo, of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation and the Denesuline First Nation, attended Capilano University and studied photography and acting, says his sister.
Among his many artistic accomplishments, Kootenhayoo starred in the 2018 film Bella Ciao. It was featured at the Whistler Film Festival and he was named on the festival’s ‘Stars to Watch’ list, a title reserved for those on the precipice of international fame.
In a tribute to Kootenhayoo the film is now available to screen for free online. Colleagues from the film posted about their condolences to his family on the film's website saying he was “a gifted and disciplined collaborator, a warm and generous friend. Words don’t capture our deep respect and affection for him.”
The young artist was also a land protector, and had been writing a musical over the past few months.
“He cared about our culture, the environment, the water,” said Cheyanna.
On social media, the Arts Club Theatre described him as “incredibly talented.”
“Those who knew him experienced his wonderful light, infectious laugh, and smile, and we consider ourselves lucky to have worked with and known him,” reads a tweet from the theatre.
Kootenhayoo grew up in Edmonton but followed his older sister and their younger brother to Vancouver when he was 18. When he arrived, the three siblings lived together.
Cheyanna, also known as DJ Kookum, says her brother had a talent for meeting new people and that he would go to events with her to help her network.
“He’d always come to my shows, he was like my hype man,” she said. “I’m too shy sometimes, or like too into DJ-ing and he’ll go on the mic and say all these things for me.”
Family challenges – due to intergenerational trauma – meant that he was more like a son than a younger brother to her, Cheyanna says.
“He’s like my kid,” she said, recalling his younger years when she would drop him off at skateboard parks.
Cheyanna says Kootenhayoo led by example and helped her learn to be more patient, forgiving and caring.
“My little cousins are devastated, my youngest brother – they're just so devastated because they look up to him so much and if anything we're all just learning how to be more like Taran (Kootenhayoo).”
�� to have heard the passing of Taran Kootenhayoo. We send our deepest condolences to Taran's family & friends during this time of reflection & healing. We were very privileged to have worked, laughed and shared stories w/him. His delightful smile, charm & wit will be missed.#RIP pic.twitter.com/igzWbgY30K— Bill Reid Gallery (@billreidgallery) January 3, 2021
Very sad to hear the passing of Taran J. Kootenhayoo. One of our amazing students who graduated a few years ago from Cap U. Such a loss of a talented, smart, and kind person. @CapilanoU pic.twitter.com/G3Azr5ESzA— David Kirk (@CapUfirstnation) January 1, 2021
We’ve just heard of the passing of Taran Kootenhayoo. Taran was an incredibly talented poet, writer, and actor, who we were fortunate enough to work with in 2019 on Redpatch. pic.twitter.com/M0G0DonRQ9— Arts Club Theatre Company (@theArtsClub) January 1, 2021