Prince Albert is remembering Marlene Bird as a fighter.
Bird, who was the victim of a horrific attempt on her life in Prince Albert over three years ago, died Monday morning in Victoria Hospital after an undisclosed illness. She is survived by two adult daughters and her long-time partner, Patrick Lavallee.
“She was very feisty, that much we knew,” Linda Lavallee, Patrick’s sister, told paNOW. “She didn’t let anybody walk all over her… with or without legs. [She was] very, very tough.”
Bird had her legs amputated and was left without much of her eyesight after a violent and disturbing attack.
Bird was attacked in a downtown alley on June 1, 2014 by Leslie Black. He sexually assaulted her before stomping and beating Bird, lighting her on fire and leaving the scene.
Black was recently sentenced to 16 years for attempted murder. During his sentence hearing, Bird heard Black apologize for the violent crime.
“I liked that apology,” Bird said afterwards. “It feels good. I don’t have to have bad dreams, I hope.”
While she had not come to terms with her attacker at the time of the court date, Bird said she would possibly forgive Black with the passage of time.
“I’m doing my best because my mom told me to forgive people that do wrong,” Bird said. “I think I could forgive him.”
The case against Black was more remarkable in that Bird was prepared to bring matters into the public eye.
Her identity was initially subject to a media ban imposed by the court, but she ensured the case garnered even more attention by coming forward with her story and being available for media interviews.
As a result, Bird, who had struggled with alcohol issues, was rarely out of the spotlight given the high-profile nature of the court proceedings. But she was also in the community’s thoughts.
Bird, who had used a wheelchair and scooter since the assault, was again the victim of crime earlier in 2017 when her scooter was stolen from her home in Timber Bay.
Spinal Cord Injury Saskatchewan then donated a $3,500 unit to Bird. She was often seen being pushed around town by her partner Patrick, who was regularly by her side.
Bird had hoped to become even more mobile. She told paNOW she was hoping to receive prosthetic legs so she could become more independent.
Reflecting on her death, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), and the Prince Albert Grand Council’s (PAGC) Women’s Commission offered their condolences to the family through a media statement.
“Our prayers and thoughts are with the family during this extremely difficult time,” First Vice-Chief Kim Jonathan said. “Marlene is a true symbol of resiliency, and showed such bravery throughout the years of fighting for her recovery.”
The FSIN and PAGC statement added that Bird left the world surrounded by family at the Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert. She was a member of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation, and will be missed dearly.
“She was a heroic woman, whose strength inspired many, and we are deeply hurt to hear of her passing,” read the statement from the Women’s Commission of PAGC. “The loss of Marlene affects us all, and her courage will be admired forever.”
Troy Cooper, the chief of the Prince Albert Police Department said he knew Bird quite well and visited her in hospital Friday.
Bird was seen as a symbol of many important social issues, Cooper said, particularly violence against women. The police chief noted she was more than just a well-known survivor of crime, as she also displayed tremendous strength and perseverance throughout her life.
Cooper said the city rallied around her as a symbol of resilience, and her passing will be mourned by the entire community.
The fight in Bird was obvious to Donna Brooks with the YWCA in Prince Albert. She got to know Marlene well after the attack.
“As a community, we all got to love her. And we all got frustrated with her sometimes because of her feistiness,” Brooks said with a laugh. “But we will all miss her… I will miss her.”
Brooks remembers Bird as a strong woman.
“After the attack, the community all had an idea of what we thought was best for Marlene,” Brooks said. “But what she taught me was that we had no right to decide that. We had to allow Marlene the dignity to choose her own path.”
Brooks said Bird was not afraid to tell her story; the good parts and the bad parts.
The community will be able to pay their last respects to Marlene Bird at a remembrance service at the Full Gospel Outreach Centre on Central Ave. at 7:30 p.m. Monday.
—With files from Taylor MacPherson, Bryan Eneas and Nigel Maxwell.