THUNDER BAY, ON: Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler paid tribute to strength and determination of family members and the many witnesses who provided painful and heartfelt testimony on the deaths of seven First Nation youth in Thunder Bay and looks forward to the next phase of the joint Inquest with the development of recommendations to prevent similar tragedies and increase student safety.
“I am amazed by the conviction of the families and other witnesses, many of whom traveled great distances to provide heart-wrenching testimony about the loss of these youth, and we thank them for their courage and conviction during this very difficult process,” said Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. “The emotional toll on these witnesses is immeasurable and we hope that their experiences and insight are considered by the jury as they consider recommendations that can help prevent such tragedies from ever happening again.”
The first phase of the Inquest into the Death of Seven First Nations Youth in Thunder Bay began on October 5, 2015 with testimony from family members about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of these youth. The second phase concluded on April 8, 2016 after testimony from expert witnesses including First Nation leaders and educators who put the students’ experiences into broader context for the jury.
The final witness was Edmund Metatawabin, a survivor of the notorious St. Anne’s Residential School in Fort Albany. Metatawabin spoke about the horrors of residential school, where First Nation youth were physically and sexually abused, including torture in a homemade electric chair and being forced to eat their own vomit. He explained that the impacts of the residential school system continue today and outlined the hostile environment facing First Nations when they come to Thunder Bay. He proposed a memorial be erected in Thunder Bay to honour these lost youth – a concept NAN supports.
Legal counsel for NAN has raised the following issues during the Inquest:
A lack of confidence in the Thunder Bay Police Service’s willingness to fully investigate the deaths of First Nation people;
Recognition that NAN and NAN-affiliated organizations have a role to play in student safety; and
The need for all parties involved to commit to the implementation of recommendations that come from the Inquest.
“Right from the start our focus has been on the families, supporting those who have lost their youth under similar circumstances while attending high school in Thunder and working to ensure that no more families have to experience the loss of their children in a similar manner,” said Fiddler. “We are hopeful that strong recommendations will be delivered by this jury that can prevent tragedies and increase student safety, and we will look for firm commitments by the governments of Ontario and Canada and all appropriate agencies to immediately develop a process for their swift and complete implementation.”
Last Friday, Grand Chief Fiddler met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Thunder Bay where they spoke of the many issues facing NAN First Nations, including the upcoming Inquest recommendations. The Prime Minister reiterated Canada’s commitment to implementing the recommendations in collaboration with the province and the relevant First Nation organizations.
The Inquest is examining the circumstance of the deaths of Jethro Anderson (in 2000), Curran Strang (in 2005), Paul Panacheese (in 2006), Robyn Harper (in 2007), Reggie Bushie (in 2007), Kyle Morrisseau (in 2009) and Jordan Wabasse (in 2011). All of these youth died while they were attending high school in Thunder Bay, far away from their families and home First Nation communities.
Due to the similarities in all seven cases, Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) called for a broader inquiry to fully investigate the circumstances surrounding the loss of these youth and to find ways to prevent such tragedies from happening again. NAN received the expressed support of Chiefs and the families of the victims for a Joint Inquest into the deaths of all seven youth, which was announced by the Chief Coroner of Ontario on May 31, 2012.
More information on the Inquest is available at: www.nan.on.ca/article/seven-youth-inquest