This is the story of a mother’s worst nightmare. Five months after learning that her son had been murdered, Melodie Hunt-Ayoungman must now suffer the indignity of watching one of the two murder suspects get set free on bail.
Twenty-four-year-old Kristian Ayoungman was a promising young hockey player and respected role model in the Indigenous community of the Siksika Nation in southern Alberta. The 24 year old was shot and killed on Highway 817 south of Strathmore at about 3:30am Sunday, March 17. Two brothers, Kody Allan Giffen, 22, and Brandon Giffen, 25, were charged with first-degree murder. Kody Giffen has been released on bail.
First Nations Drum asked Hunt-Ayoungman to share her thoughts and emotions when she heard the news that her son’s killer was being released on bail.
“My first thoughts were, ‘Seriously? This is actually being considered, that they would actually allow someone who helped take my boy’s life leave jail?’ What about the safety of the victims, our community, and other people,” said Hunt-Ayoungman. “I am still in disbelief how these guys could have taken my boys life. It took me backwards remembering how the police came to me to tell me that Kristian was a homicide victim, that he was shot. This release reminded me how Kody was a part in helping this all happen. I remembered the shock I fell into, how I dropped when I was told the news about my son, how I was screaming and crying in disbelief saying, ‘No not my boy, he is such a good kid, not Kristian!’ Lots of hurt memories of that day came back.”
Reuben Breaker is a member of the Siksika council and has been supporting Hunt-Ayoungman through her nightmare. He told Global News that he’s less optimistic about the case. “This just re-opened the wound, to know what this young man is being charged with,” said Breaker. “If one of our boys had murdered a non-Native boy, we wouldn’t have access to bail let alone granted bail.”
Kristian’s tragic death occurred about eight hours after the popular and former Junior B hockey player participated in a Wheatland Kings alumni game. Darcy Busslinger is a team manager for the Strathmore Wheatland Kings Junior hockey team. He told Global News that Kristian was one of the good ones. “I had a great visit with Kristian up in the dressing room after, and he was telling me all about his job and what he was going to do for the summer,” Busslinger said. “It’s just crazy that we’ve had to go through this in the last five years. We’ve lost four other community kids that played hockey and we are a tight bunch.”
Colten Wildman, Siksika Buffaloes player and coach also told Global News that he was in disbelief of the news. “It was one of those things where you don’t want to believe it,” said Colten Wildman, who also played hockey with Ayoungman for eight years. “You deny it and when you find out more details, you’re just immediately crushed. He was just a good kid on and off the ice. You were very lucky to know him on the ice, but you were pretty special to get close with him off the ice.”
Hunt-Ayoungman says she never imagined that she would join the ranks of countless Indigenous mothers who have had to sit in court and witness the trial of those charged with murdering their child.
“Never does a parent ever expect their child to leave before them, and there I was sitting in this courtroom for my boy. For the first time I was going to see the guys involved in taking my sons life away from us all,” said Hunt-Ayoungman. “They took away such a genuine person. Why, why did they do this, how could they do this? These were the questions going through my mind.”
Hunt-Ayoungman said her son did not deserve to be murdered, that he was at the high point in his life, and just living life as a young person on his way to becoming successful. “He was so kind and respectful to everyone. I shouldn’t be going through this,” said Hunt-Ayoungman. “What did we do to deserve this?”
The grieving mother said that she did not want her son’s murder to define his life. “Kristian loved hockey. That was the love of his life. As soon as he could walk he already had a hockey stick in his hand with a ball running up and down the hall shooting the ball,” said Hunt-Ayoungman. “As soon as he could take one of his first sentences I distinctly remember him telling me as we were driving, he looks at me and says, ‘Mom, I want to be in the NHL.’ I remember looking at him and seeing such a confident look on his face, and the way he said it.
I remember telling him, ‘OK my boy, if that’s what you want to do, you can do it.”
As a child, Kristian had nets set up outside his house to shoot his puck into and loved anything sport related. He would golf, play catch, and hit the baseball around with his Uncle Mory. He learned to also bead. Kristian started playing hockey on the Siksika Nation as a pre-novice before advancing on to play with teams in Strathmore and Okotoks where he played Bantam and Midget AA hockey. He was a part of many championship teams, won many trophies, and was always getting sportsmanship awards.
Kristian’s Blackfoot name was Kakato’si, which means Star, which is also his middle name. Raised with traditional Blackfoot beliefs, he spent a significant amount of time with his mom’s sister, Dawn, and her younger brother Mory. “Kristian was a traditional dancer and was very successful at it,” Hunt-Ayoungman said. “When he was the age of tiny tots we already put him in juniors, when he was in juniors we put him in teens. He was just that good of a dancer; teens were intimidated by him because he would win most of the time. We travelled throughout powwow country all over North America.”
Hunt-Ayoungman herself was a very accomplished jingle dress dancer and passed on her traditional dancing abilities to Kristian. Kristian performed and danced at the Calgary Stampede for many years, and even danced for Queen Elizabeth.
Hunt-Ayoungman says Kristian was a role model on the Siksika Nation. “He was genuine, kind, loving, caring, very well respected and very respectful to others. Kristian tried hard in everything he did; was a perfectionist – when he learned something he made sure he learned how to do it well. He was a role model in our Siksika Community in the way he carried himself, the way he treated others, and how he did his best in everything. These are the kind of Native Men we want in our First Nations communities. Leaders for others. He very well ‘Led by Example’”
Hunt-Ayoungman says she can’t discuss too much about the legal issues but did say preliminary trial dates have been set for early 2020.