A hearing on Tuesday will determine who gets to ask questions and call witnesses at an upcoming inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students in Thunder Bay.

The students died between Nov. 11, 2000 and May 10, 2011. They ranged in age from 15 to 21.

Most students died by drowning, but their families want to know if something, or someone, forced them into the water.

There are no high schools in many remote First Nations in northern Ontario, so teens must move hundreds of kilometres away to earn a diploma.


Sandy Lake First Nation resident Marsha Kennedy graduated from Dennis Franklin Cromarty First Nations high school this year. She says students are subjected to racism in Thunder Bay. (Jody Porter/CBC)

They stay with boarding parents and have to make a quick adaptation to a city that isn't always welcoming.

Marsha Kennedy graduated from Dennis Franklin Cromarty First Nations high school in Thunder Bay this year.

She said it's not uncommon for people to hurl racist taunts at First Nations teens.

"There's still people who yell out of their cars and honk and all that bad stuff," Kennedy said. "It's always going to be there, I think."

'Fears in the community'

The OPP are continuing their review of the investigations into the deaths of the students and no date has been set for the inquest to begin.

Regional supervising coroner Dr. Michael Wilson said the aim of the inquest will be to answer questions about the circumstances around the deaths.

First Nations students who died

  • Jethro Anderson of Kasabonika Lake First Nation died on or about Nov. 11, 2000, at age 15.
  • Reggie Bushie of Poplar Hill First Nation died on or about Nov. 1, 2007, at age 15.
  • Robyn Harper of Keewaywin First Nation died on Jan. 13, 2007, at age 19.
  • Kyle Morrisseau of Keewaywin First Nation died on or about Nov. 10, 2009, at age 17.
  • Paul Panacheese of Mishkeegogamang First Nation died on Nov. 11, 2006, at age 21.
  • Curran Strang of Pikangikum First Nation died on or about Sept. 26, 2005, at age 18.
  • Jordan Wabasse of Webequie First Nation died on or about May 10, 2011 at age 15.

"There are fears in the community about some of the factors that may have resulted in the deaths of these young people," he said.

An inquest jury may also make recommendations about preventing similar deaths, but Wilson cautioned inquests have limits.

"Even such a large one — as the First Nations youth inquest in Thunder Bay — is not an inquiry or a crusade," he said.

City seeks standing

It's not known how many individuals or groups will be seeking standing on Tuesday.

The parents of the students are widely expected to ask for, and be granted, the opportunity to ask questions and call witnesses.

The City of Thunder Bay is also seeking standing.

"Our participation in the inquest is very important and reflects the city's ongoing commitment to build strong and respectful relationships with the Aboriginal community in Thunder Bay," city manager Tim Commisso said in a news release. "And to create a safe and welcoming environment for all residents."