Starlight Tour: The Last, Lonely Night of Neil Stonechild


431 pages
Contains Photos, Index
ISBN 0-679-31307-9
DDC 363.2'097124'25




Reviewed by Kerry Abel

Kerry Abel is a professor of history at Carleton University. She is the author of Drum Songs: Glimpses of Dene History, co-editor of Aboriginal Resource Use in Canada: Historical and Legal Aspects, and co-editor of Northern Visions: New Perspectives on the North in Canadian History.


It was bitterly cold on the night of November 25, 1990, when 17-year-old
Neil Stonechild froze to death on the outskirts of Saskatoon. The
circumstances were suspicious, but the police investigation was brief
and superficial—after all, Neil was just another Native kid, already
known to police and probably drunk. But Neil’s family and friends did
not believe the police report, and their efforts led eventually to an
official commission of inquiry in which Justice David Wright concluded
that the young man had been in police custody shortly before his death
and sharply criticized the actions of the Saskatoon police force in
handling the entire affair. In Starlight Tour, CBC journalists Susanne
Reber and Robert Renaud reconstruct Neil’s sad story from their
interviews, trial and inquiry transcripts, and newspapers.

This is no dry detailing of events. The book is written in the style of
a novel, with conversations, literary devices, careful plot
constructions, and a snappy style. Readers are drawn into the world of
racism, poverty, addictions, petty crime, and violence that characterize
the lives of too many urban Aboriginal people in Canada today. Those who
are able to rise above their circumstances, such as Stella Stonechild
Bignell (Neil’s mother) and Donald Worme (the family’s lawyer), are
truly heroic figures in this deeply disturbing story. The authors
succeed in turning the mind-numbing inquiry transcripts into an
emotionally gripping narrative without sinking into gutter-press
sensationalism. They propose that a deeply rooted racism anchors the
story of what happened to Neil, his family, and others. Perhaps my only
quibble with the book is that the authors are sufficiently talented
writers to have been able to develop their analysis further, and explore
the underlying causes of both that racism and the socioeconomic troubles
among urban First Nations. Racism is only part of the problem. After
all, women’s rights activists have long argued that our society
similarly dismisses cases involving marginalized sex-trade workers,
while demanding action when the victim is middle-class and

The book has received a well-deserved nomination for the Writers’
Trust of Canada’s Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for non-fiction.


Reber, Susanne, and Robert Renaud., “Starlight Tour: The Last, Lonely Night of Neil Stonechild,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 22, 2024,