KENORA – Tomorrow, MPP Sarah Campbell will be visiting Grassy Narrows to meet with the parents of Azraya Ackabee-Kokopenace to discuss the death of their daughter.
Last week, Campbell made public an open letter addressed to Kathleen Wynne’s new Minister of Children and Youth Services, Michael Coteau, who took over the portfolio earlier this month, demanding an inquest into the in-custody death of Grassy Narrows teenager Ackabee-Kokopenace.
The letter, cc’d to Wynne and to David Zimmer, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, and David Orizietti, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, challenges the new Minister to “ensure there is justice for Azraya” and to “commit to bring[ing] the Ackabee-Kokopenace family and her community of Grassy Narrows some peace by supporting their call for a Coroner’s inquest.” Zimmer will be in Grassy Narrows today to discuss mercury, but has not contacted the Ackabee-Kokopenace family.
Neither Coteau nor Wynne have responded yet to the letter from Sarah Campbell, or to the Ackabee-Kokopenace family.
Azraya Ackabee-Kokopeance, a 14 year-old Anishinaabe girl from Grassy Narrows First Nation was living in the custody of the child welfare system, and had interactions with both the local Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Kenora District Hospital on the night she died, however none of them have provided any answers or accountability for what happened that night.
“The same system that took her out of her community and away from her family is the system that failed her,” said Marlin Kokopenace, Azraya’s father. “We want that system held accountable, and we want it to change,” he said.
Azraya Ackabee-Kokopenace was taken from her family and was living in the custody of the child welfare system in Kenora. She was known to be suicidal following the death of her older brother Calvin who suffered from mercury poisoning and muscular dystrophy and died at 17 in late 2014 from health complications.
Out past her curfew at the agency home, Azraya was picked up by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) sometime on the night of April 15, removing her from a group of friends she was with. OPP took her to the hospital and left her there.
Azraya left the hospital alone around midnight and was seen wandering into the woods. She was found dead in that same wooded area across the road from the hospital, two days later, not by police but by a volunteer aboriginal search team from Winnipeg.
Calls for Justice for Azraya and for an Inquest into her death have already been widely issued.
“I am joining already supportive calls from the Grand Council Treaty #3, The Chief and Council of the Grassy Narrows First Nation, and the Grassy Narrows Youth Organization for this inquest,” Sarah Campbell, MPP for Kenora Rainey River, said today. “My Ontario NDP colleagues and I are committed to ensuring that the Ackabee-Kokopenace family gets justice on this very important issue,” says Campbell.
The Ackabee-Kokopenace Family first issued a public demand on May 10 for answers about what led to their daughter’s death, and for changes to the system that failed her. They and their community of Grassy Narrows are still awaiting answers from the Coroner who has continued to delay release of initial findings.
“Our family, community and our people deserve answers,” said Marlin Kokopenace. “We deserve justice for Azraya, and our Youth deserve to not have their lives put further at risk when they are taken into custody,” he said.
“The Anishinaabe Nation in Treaty #3 is profoundly sad at the death of Azraya Ackabee-Kokopenace and commends the courage of her family,” and Grand Council Treaty #3 is supporting the family’s demands, “in the hopes that an inquest can provide the answers to prevent any further tragedies with our youth,” says Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh.
The day after Kavanaugh was elected as Grand Chief, Grand Council Treaty #3 passed a resolution supporting the inquest at their National Assembly in Kenora on May 27.
Calls for an inquest have also already been supported by Charlie Angus, Federal Aboriginal Affairs critic for the NDP, by Isadore Day, Grand Chief of Chiefs of Ontario, and by several advocates and advocacy organizations.