The fire on the James Street bridge earlier this week shut down an important link between Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation — and triggered some hateful social media posts.
Eighteen-year-old Matilda Suganaqueb said the tweets are disturbing, but not surprising.
"It's nothing new to me actually,” the volunteer with the Multicultural Youth Council in Thunder Bay said. “I've experienced ... this stuff. People telling me to go back to my reserve and stuff like that."
One tweet made reference to letting the fire on the bridge travel toward the community. Another referred to blocking off the reserve from the rest of the city.
Suganaqueb and her fellow youth council volunteer, 24-year-old Lucille Atlookan, said the tweets send an unwelcoming message to students who travel from remote First Nations for school, as well as to their parents.
Said Atlookan: "Is that what Thunder Bay wants to be known for?"
The chief of Fort William First Nation noted the tweets signal a need to step up education about Aboriginal people in Canada. The offensive tweets also appear to have been sent by young people.
"I look at my own children. And I think, 'wow, they have to be exposed to this level of hatred’,” Georjann Morriseau said. “And I can't help but use the word hatred because that's exactly where it stems from, that's exactly what it is."
'Small minority of narrow-minded people'
Morriseau said it’s a clear signal that adults should increase their education efforts.
"Whether it's in the education system, whether it's our own personal lives at home ... I think that we're missing the mark."
Dealing with racist comments is as important as addressing the logistical issues around re-opening the bridge, Morriseau said.
"To see such hatred and to see such racism towards ... not just First Nation people, but towards other human beings, is very disheartening."
Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs said he’s dismayed by the disparaging comments directed at the Fort William First Nation.
“We've done a lot of work building bridges, not only with the Fort William First Nation, but the aboriginal community,” he said. “This is a minority [making comments like these on social media] … a very small minority of narrow minded people.”
Hobbs said he knows for a fact the comments he has seen do not reflect the feelings of the majority.
One person has already apologized for remarks that he had posted, Hobbs said.