THUNDER BAY – Editorial – Moving forward in Thunder Bay and across Northwestern Ontario means changing what has been done in the past. Over the past decade, seven young Aboriginal youth, attending high school in Thunder Bay have not completed their education. They went missing, and then their bodies were recovered from in rivers around the city.
The Inquest into the deaths of Aboriginal teenagers who have come to Thunder Bay to attend high school is likely to uncover many issues that should be addressed.
In Thunder Bay there has already been an informal inquest. The Regional Multicultural Youth Council (RYMC), completed a report for The Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth in May 2010.
Bluntly put, in the eighty-five page report prepared by the RMYC, it is unlikely that the formal inquest will find many more causes or solutions to the issues surrounding the deaths of young Aboriginal youth.
Realistically however it is likely that the RYMC report has been sitting on the shelves of many of the people who could have been using the information to start solving the problems.
It is not the easiest read, as the RMYC report highlights some of the systemic problems facing Aboriginal youth coming from the north and arriving in Thunder Bay.
The report also shares some of the root causes of problems in Thunder Bay which have come from the home communities. The RMYC do not pull any punches. Their report tells it like it is, and much of what is shared is not very pretty.
The report has been supported by the NNEC, and NAN, as well as the Office for the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth. Getting support from a wider audience appears slower. Likely for many political leaders, dealing with the problems of some northern communities is not as exciting as promoting the latest good news report.
Politically, helping Aboriginal youth has not appeared to have become a major priority at either the provincial or federal level. The right looking moves are there, what is slow to come is the action.
Premiers and the Prime Minister have supported some form of youth engagement, but have never really jumped in with both feet to fund the programs, and support the educational efforts that are really needed.
“Ultimately, First Nations children and youth growing up in the province, whether on-reserve or off-reserve, are collectively, all our children and youth. Ethically, morally and intellectually, why would the citizens of Ontario continue to permit its neediest children to go without the educational advantages afforded to all its other children? Ontario operates one of the best educational systems in the world….except for First Nations children on reserve, where it plays a limited, if any, role”. (Death Review of the Youth Suicides at the Pikangikum First Nation, 2006-2008).
The Assembly of First Nations state, “Again and again we are reminded that our children face far greater challenges and are far less likely to achieve optimal outcomes in health and education. In 2007, a Standing Committee of Parliament concluded that our children make up the most vulnerable and marginalized categories of children in Canada and cited specific concerns such as higher rates of malnutrition, diabetes, drug and alcohol abuse and suicide”.
It is easier often to speak well, but then do as little as possible politically.
As Northwestern Ontario is now a hotbed of mining activity, there is the potential for change.
However there is also huge risk, unless things are done right. There is a huge possibility that things could be far worse. The money that could flow into small northern communities could bring increased social woes. So too there are concerns that unless planning is done carefully, access into some communities by road would also bring in easier access for those seeking to supply alcohol or drugs into communities.
It is not always about making money, with apologies to Kevin O’Leary. Sometimes it is about getting it right.
The key appears to be making sure that the youth from Northern Ontario communities coming to Thunder Bay and other communities get the greatest possible opportunities to grow and learn.
Overcoming the obstacles to success, not only in education, but in life will empower new generations of Aboriginal youth in making the most of the opportunities that are open to them.
Getting it right in Thunder Bay will save lives. It will also prevent future problems in our community.
Chief Content Officer