The inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students in Thunder Bay, Ont., is drawing attention to the disparities in their treatment compared to non-Indigenous students, according to the Ontario Advocate for Children and Youth.
The inquest is examining the circumstances surrounding the deaths, between 2000 and 2011, of young people from remote First Nations who came to Thunder Bay to attend high school. Most of their communities have little in the way of secondary education.
A Thunder Bay police officer testified on Monday that it took days for police to get transit video of 15-year-old Jordan Wabasse, who disappeared after getting off a city bus near his boarding home in February 2011.
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"To me that speaks to a sense of a lack of urgency," child advocate Irwin Elman said. "Not criticizing any one individual, but it speaks to the sense that we don't really understand what [First Nations students] are going through and we don't value them enough, as if they're our own children."
The inquest also heard testimony on Monday about the way First Nations schools are funded compared to provincial schools.
Jordan Wabasse attended the Matawa Learning Centre in Thunder Bay in the months before his disappearance.
The centre had one teacher and a principal for 25 students who were attempting to complete credits in Grades 9 to 12, jurors were told. It provided little in the way of support services and no after-hours programming.
"We provided what we could with what we had," former Matawa education manager Murray Waboose testified.
Waboose said schools for First Nations students from reserves are funded by the federal government and only receive funding for "instructional services".
Provincially-funded schools have many other "funding envelopes" for things such as administration or special education, he said.
It's time to stop arguing over who pays for essential services for children, Elman said.
"I really do think we need a 'whatever is necessary' approach by all levels of government," he said. "When you hear the stories of what these young people are experiencing, it really just takes political will, from all levels of government and institutions, to provide what is necessary and we can do it."
Watch live streaming video from the First Nation student deaths inquest here.