Justin Ranger often looked at the wrongs of his past perpetrated by him at a time in his life when a reckless lifestyle was the only one made available to him by society. He had the wisdom though to keep the negatives from long ago close by, to act as constant reminders of what to steer clear of in his future decisions and deeds. He had no desire whatsoever to going back to a life of nonsense. Justin understood the meaning of honour. Very few among us could live up to the standards Justin held as sacred ingredients defining what it is to be an ‘honourable man’. He was much loved because of it! Most everyone who knew him regarded him as a generous, empathetic and hardworking hero, who in recent months, seemed to carefully place his spiritual beliefs in the forefront of all his worldly decisions. Yes, he was all of these things and more, yet Justin Ranger, at age 37, is now deceased. Dead from an apparent drug overdose. It is difficult to process.
I first met Justin at Millhaven Institution (M.I. maximum security). At the time of our first meeting, Justin was in segregation, having been sent there by prison officials for his part in a fist fight. Justin and I connected! Although he wasn’t the leader of the ‘Indian Brotherhood’ at that time (he did become the leader about a year later), he still pulled a lot of weight with the inmates, not just the ones of Indigenous bloodlines but also others regardless of colour or cultural background. It was Justin I turned to the most to stand with me in establishing rehabilitation goals for the Indigenous inmates on the range. In my view, there are two kinds of people in this world: you are either a leader or you are a follower. Justin Ranger was a leader, a brave one, willing to listen and respect the ‘common sense’ in the words of those in an opposing camp. He was at the right place at the right time. If not for Justin’s leadership at M.I., I truly believe that blood of guards and I’m sure of many inmates, would have been spilled if not for him working with me in calming things down after a young Indigenous inmate was shot dead during a violent outbreak which took place in the prison gymnasium shortly after I began working at M.I.
Justin Ranger wanted a better life for himself, one of sobriety and one providing a close spiritual relationship with the forest. I contributed to his spiritual betterment by introducing him to Algonquin friends who allowed him to visit with them in the deep woods of our territory. Justin loved the experience! Before setting out to the forest, Justin stayed a couple of nights at my home. I saw firsthand how ambitious he was and how much he wanted to mentor and present himself as a role model for young Indigenous men who had lost their way. I don’t know what went wrong in the final hours of his life. I wish he had reached out to me!
Somebody who loved Justin wrote on Facebook “I’d happily take his place if it meant bringing him back.” All of you who read those words please have no doubt in hearts of hearts that Justin Ranger would have become a great teacher and leader in his senior years if only he were still alive. We have lost a good man. Let us not allow him to have died in vain. Let us do honourable things in his memory. Let us honour him for the super friend that he was. There will never be another like him.
Hunt well Justin, in that sacred place you find yourself in now, my friend. May your feasting plate be filled with game prepared for you by the Grandmother who welcomed you home. Be forever at peace and know that I will sit with you again in the circle at some point in the future. Keep the fire burning bright, Justin Ranger “Good Friend”, we will never forget you.
Note: There will be a memorial for Justin in the spring after the snow is gone. All who respected this remarkable young man are invited. Stay tuned for info.
Keep the Circle Strong,
South Wind (Albert Dumont)