Taran Kootenhayoo, Canadian Indigenous Actor, Dies at 27

Taran Kootenhayoo
Courtesy of Justin Louis

The Vancouver-based performer is best known for his star turn in the 2018 indie drama 'Bella Ciao!'

Canadian Indigenous actor and artist Taran Kootenhayoo has died at 27.

Vancouver-based Kootenhayoo passed away on on New Year's Eve, with no cause of death given. Indigenous streetwear maker Section 35, for which the actor modeled its latest fashions, was the first to announce Kootenhayoo's death on its Instagram account the next day: "Creator called a legend home. We love you and you will be missed. Rest in Power Brother."

Born in Cold Lake, Alberta, and a member of a member of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, Kootenhayoo attended acting school at Capilano College in Vancouver and graduated in 2015. He was best known for his star-turn as Niki, a young homeless man looking for his missing sister, in Bella Ciao!, the 2018 indie feature by director Carolyn Combs about intersecting characters in an east Vancouver multicultural community.

"Our loss is immeasurable. He was a gifted and disciplined collaborator, a warm and generous friend. Words don’t capture our deep respect and affection for him. We wish him well on his journey. In his honor, and with the approval of his sister Cheyanna J.V. Kootenhayoo, we are making his performance in the film available to all," the official website for Bella Ciao! wrote about the actor's death as it introduced the online movie screening.

In a 2018 profile for Hollywood North Magazine, Kootenhayoo said he hoped the role of Niki would encourage other Indigenous youth to follow his lead into acting. “It means that I get to have representation as an Indigenous person in a story that isn’t stereotypical for an Indigenous actor. I’m very glad to be part of it and hopefully inspire other Indigenous youth or anybody else that aspires to do whatever they want and have fun with it," he said at the time.

Besides a number of screenplays and live theater roles in western Canada, Kootenhayoo also played the character of Remy on the 2018 Canadian TV series Literally and voiced the role of Randall in the animated fantasy series Molly of Denali.

He was named as a Star to Watch at the Whistler Film Festival in 2018 and earned the Most Promising Newcomer trophy at the Jessie Theatre Awards a year later.