SIOUX LOOKOUT – The Sachigo Lake Walkers have reached Sioux Lookout. They are walking to support a new safe living centre to be built in Thunder Bay – The Dennis Franklin Cromarty Student Living Centre. Aboriginal youth in Northwestern Ontario leave their communities in the far north to attend high school in larger cities in the south. They leave behind their family, and their friends as they strive to achieve success.
In Thunder Bay, Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School is home to almost 140 students who are in the city to attend high school.
Sachigo Lake Walkers
Coming to the city from the north is a huge transition for young people. Coming to Thunder Bay means living in a strange home, often with foster families who, no matter how much they care, are still not like their real family.
Sachigo Lake Walkers in Sioux Lookout
All these young people come out on their own. They are used to the safety of their home communities. In Thunder Bay, tragically, seven young people over the past ten years have not returned home alive. They have returned home in coffins.
Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy comments, “During that time period, no other young person in the city died under similar circumstances”.
“Why is that?” questions Regional Chief Beardy.
“It has created concerns in the Northern communities, not unlike the families of Canadian soldiers who have gone to Afghanistan to fight. The families are questioning if their young people headed to Thunder Bay are going to return home, or survive,” continued Regional Chief Beardy.
Every mother and father in the north, with a son or a daughter attending school in Thunder Bay worries constantly about the safety of their child.
Regional Chief Beardy – Youth Matter
Regional Chief Beardy addressed the audience in Sioux Lookout. He said, “When we talk about our children, the seven lost children in the past ten years”.
“One of the agreements we made in making the treaties was that we would work together peacefully, we would work together, and we would all benefit,” commented the Regional Chief. “Now we need to work together to make a safe place for our youth”.
The student who have died in Thunder Bay, often under circumstances have created great fear and concern.
It is an issue that has Nishnawbe-Ashi Nation concerned as well.
All of the First Nations groups are working toward real solutions. Increasingly local governments are stepping up to join in the efforts.
Wasaya Group Inc. is a Native Venture Partnership. People in the communities served by Wasaya started communicating with their Chiefs and Councils expressing concerns over the safety and well-being of their children and grandchildren.
That has led to action. Action that is being supported by a growing list of groups and people.
Wasaya Group Inc – Stepping up!
Tom Kamenawatamin is the President and CEO of Wasaya Group. Along with MaryEllen Thomas the Executive Vice President, efforts to make Thunder Bay a safer place for First Nations youth have started. The first step was a public partnership with the City of Thunder Bay and Youth Centres Thunder Bay for a pilot project Youth Centre.
Kamenawatamin stated, “It is a beautiful day to greet the walkers, they have covered 615 kilometres so far, they have a long way to go to get to Thunder Bay”.
“They need encouragement from all of us.”
”With the past ten years, in Thunder Bay, we have lost seven youth. Two years ago, I started getting calls from people in the communities, asking how Wasaya can do something to make a difference.”
“The solutions came from the students themselves, until then, we didn’t know how to move forward. The students prepared a report, that shared what they felt was needed”.
“We went through their recommendations, one of the top ones was a youth residence”.
“The students wanted to have somewhere that was safe for them to live”.
That eighteen-month pilot project is continuing with youth from across the city coming to the new Youth Centre located in the Chapples Building in the Victoriaville Centre.
The next steps are now underway. The Dennis Franklin Cromarty Student Living Centre has been announced and fundraising and planning is underway.
The Sachigo Lake Walkers, are on the way to Thunder Bay from their community in the far north. Sachigo Lake First Nation is located 1200 km from Thunder Bay.
The youth are walking to Thunder Bay to help raise both funds and awareness of the project.
The project is a big one. It is taking the efforts and energies of young and old alike.
In Sioux Lookout today, at the Nishnawbe Gamik Friendship Centre, a event was held in support of the Dennis Franklin Living Centre.
Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy, Nishnawbe-Aski Grand Chief Harvey Yesno, and Wasaya Group Inc. President and CEO Tom Kamenawatamin were in attendance.
Showing support by attending were the Mayor of Sioux Lookout, Dennis Lenny and Norma Kejick, the Executive Director of the Northern Nishnawbe Aski Education Council.
Sachigo Lake First Nation Chief Titus Tait joined in by phone. There has been the death of a respected member of Sachigo Lake First Nation and the Chief is in his community with his people.
Chief Tait said, “Today our communities are hurting, the lost of young people impacts our communities. I want to thank the Wasaya Group and communities toward this project. It is for each and every community.”
Nishnawbe-Aski Grand Chief Harvey Yesno addressed the gathering.
“I want to thank Sachigo Lake First Nation, and Lac Seul First Nation whose territory we are on”.
“I want to share with the walkers, that the chiefs are stepping up.” Over $1200 was raised in a few minutes for the food and expenses.”
“The effort has started here with Tom and the whole Wasaya Group is special”.
The Chief stated, “I am inspired by your effort, and this is a great challenge from the youth to support the project”.
Sioux Lookout Mayor Dennis Lenny said, “I respect the walkers. The youth of the First Nations have the drive to do whatever they want”.
“We are interested in what happens at Lac Seul, Sachigo Lake, and all the nations around our community”.
“We have gone through death, it is really hard, but by working together, we can work for the future.”
Dennis Franklin Cromarty Student Living Centre
The goal of a safe place for youth in Thunder Bay while they attend high school is a worthy one.
“You are our future, I am honoured to be her with you,” said Norma Kejick the Executive Director of Nishnawbe Education Council. Kejick has promised to join the walkers and help them complete their walk.
To support the walkers, visit www.netnewsledger.com/sachigo-lake-walkers/