About 200 people came out for a discussion on Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal race relations in Thunder Bay Tuesday night.

Mayor Keith Hobbs, Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins, Wendy Landry President of the Thunder Bay Council of the Metis Nation of Ontario and Lakehead University president Brian Stevenson were among the speakers at the event, which was hosted by the university.

Many of the people in the audience were moved when Hobbs said he wanted to publicly apologize for making racist remarks in the past.


Charlotte Neckaway (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Charlotte Neckaway tearfully stepped forward to accept his apology.

"I figured, well, you know, publicly someone ... who's Aboriginal should receive his comment," Neckaway said. "And for myself, going through the healing process has also brought healing to all of my own personal issues."

Neckaway and Hobbs exchanged a hug.

Importance of education

Hobbs stressed that racism will not be tolerated in Thunder Bay.

A lot of the evening’s discussion centred on the importance of education in combatting racism.


About 200 people came out to listen and speak at a Thunder Bay race relations debate on Tuesday. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Paul Francis, who has lived in Thunder Bay for years, said racism is a big problem in the city. But he said he believes things are changing for the better.

"At least people are talking about it," Francis said. "And they're talking about the issues.  And I think that's the only way things are going to improve (is) when people are talking."

Francis said he's impressed so many people — both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal — showed up for last night's discussion.

He said, in the past, far fewer people were interested in talking about race relations.