Seeking Positive Solutions for the North


Dream CatcherTHUNDER BAY – CBC’s award winning The Fifth Estate will be in Thunder Bay this week. The program will be covering the ongoing search for Jordan Wabasse, the 16 year old Webequie First Nation youth who has been missing in Thunder Bay since February 7th.

The search for the missing youth has brought together First Nation Communities from across Northwestern Ontario.

There have been a number of teens go missing in the city. Often, coverage of the news of those missing young people doesn’t make it outside of our region.

In the case of Jordan Wabasse, there has been coverage on the APTN, and a report in the Guelph Mercury of a pray vigil to support finding Jordan. Other than that, the news outside of Thunder Bay has been somewhat sparse.

The searchers and communities across the North have kept up their search with hundreds of people having participated. Thousands of dollars have been donated by many people in the ongoing efforts to find Jordan Wabasse. Many in Thunder Bay have stepped up to help.

No one knows what has happened to Jordan Wabasse. There are many rumours, but as stated frequently on the Facebook page dedicated to finding Jordan, rely on facts, not rumours.

Jordan’s grandmother, writes, “The search for my grandson continues again tomorrow…please, someone tell of his whereabouts…just wanna know,just wanna know, just wanna know…….please”. Across the North, the searchers can echo those thoughts.

With The Fifth Estate coming to Thunder Bay to report on the story, it allows word of what is happening in Thunder Bay to reach across Canada. One can hope it will help to make a positive difference.

There are several large issues here as well.

First is the issue of education itself. First Nations and members of all three levels of government have discussed how to bring greater educational opportunities to First Nations Communities. Having the opportunity for young people to attend high school in their communities is one that is currently being explored.

Another of the issues, and it seens a far too frequent issue is that of suicide in the Aboriginal community. I have known one young man, here in Thunder Bay who took his own life. He had been injured on the job, and the scope of his injury was causing him great problems. It led to depression, and then to his suicide.

The issue of Aboriginal suicide has been the focus of discussion within the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN). “The harsh reality is that there is a significant number of NAN youth taking their own lives,” says NAN Deputy Grand Chief Mike Metatawabin. “It is vital that we, as a society, do everything possible to prevent another suicide and work to protect our youth.”

It seems an all too frequent issue. In March of 2008, the Globe and Mail in an article titled; “It’s time to shed some light on native suicides in Thunder Bay” reported, “As with so much that is about Canada’s native people, the story out of a Thunder Bay press conference last week didn’t garner nearly the attention it should have. A poignant piece in the local paper, the Chronicle Journal, which also appeared in the North Bay Nugget, was about as big as it got. The facts are pretty damn startling: Five young students attending the same small first nations-run high school in Thunder Bay, all of them from remote Northern Ontario reserves, have died in sudden and unexpected ways in the past eight years – four of them since 2005.” (Source: Globe and Mail )

There are positive solutions being worked on.

At Dennis Franklin Comarty School, a residence is being built to house some of the young people coming to Thunder Bay. The teens coming to Thunder Bay from across Northern Ontario to attend high school come to our community to continue their education. Often those young people then choose to make our city their home. The task of moving from small northern communities to Thunder Bay is one that is full of both promise and problems. The promise is through education, which is the tool by which many in the Aboriginal community have pinned their hopes for a brighter future.

The problems of fitting in to a large city, when coming from a community of hundreds is a daunting one for many young people.

There are changes to overcome for these young teens. Coming from a community where in many cases everyone knows each other, to Thunder Bay puts stresses on both parents and family. For parents, and grandparents, the stresses of having their children away from home is not easy. For young people there are major changes in their lives from moving away from home.

At Lakehead University, President Brian Stevenson is looking to the north as well. There are discussions ongoing to start bringing young people down to Thunder Bay to headstart them toward attending university, and gaining a degree.

The benefits of all the efforts to seeking positive solutions will be good for all of Northwestern Ontario. Finding those solutions is one of the steps forward for our community, and our region. It is going to take partnerships with the City of Thunder Bay and the Nishnawbe Aski Nation and all of our First Nations communities across the north. It is going to take co-operation with both the federal and provincial government.

It is also going to mean that all of us here in Thunder Bay work together toward positive solutions.

It is a big task, but one that we must dedicate ourselves to.

James Murray

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