Thunder Bay inquest examines death of 7 First Nation high school students
In Oct. 2015, coroner David Eden launched one of the largest inquests in Ontario's history, an inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students. They'd left their homes in remote, northern Ontario and travelled to the city of Thunder Bay for high school.
The testimony of nearly 200 witnesses who have taken the stand is filled with stories of loneliness, racism, alcohol and drug abuse, accusations of inadequate police investigations, and a systemic failure to protect these young people.
The Chief of Mishkeegogamang or Mish, as locals call it, has been following the inquest closely. Her two daughters Hannah & Savannah, are currently in high school in Thunder Bay.
And Chief Connie Gray McKay knows first hand the dangers of being a native teenager, in the city for the first time, alone. Like her girls and son, McKay went to Thunder Bay for high school too.
You want to scare them because you know. So what do you tell them to scare them? Tell them that somebody can throw [you] in a car and kill you.- Connie Gray McKay, mother of two daughters in high school in Thunder Bay
Julian Falconer, a lawyer for the Nishnawbe Aski Nation — a political body which represents 49 First Nations in northern Ontario — says many institutions failed these kids who died leaving home to further their education in Thunder Bay.
Falconer says the police botched the investigations into the deaths of the students repeatedly and adds it's a common theme: police perform sloppier work for Indigenous people than for anyone else.
Every institution that had a role in taking care of these kids and making them safe has to strengthen how they do business.- Julian Falconer, lawyer for the Nishnawbe Aski Nation
As the inquest nears its end, family and friends hope for answers. The jury is expected to make recommendations later this spring.
In June, the coroner ruled that the cause of death of Paul Panacheese, Kyle Morriseau, Jethro Anderson, and Jordan Wabasse were undetermined. Robyn Harper, Curran Strang and Reggie Bushie's deaths were deemed to be an accident.
The Ontario Coroner's jury of five then went on to unveil 145 recommendations, some of which included providing a school to any First Nations community that wants one.
- funding early childhood education, daycare and schools the same as every other Ontario school;
- impoverished students to be given the means to phone their parents while they are away at school in Thunder Bay;
- an opportunity to allow these same students the chance to fly home in the fall and holidays;
- And basic standards and inspections in boarding homes for students, including criminal records checks of boarding parents.
The documentary, Out There, was produced by The Current's Marc Apollonio and documentary editor, Joan Webber.