The Passionate Eye

We need to make sure our young people come home safely from Thunder Bay, mother says

Maryanne Panacheese’s son, Paul, was one of seven First Nations students to die while attending school in Thunder Bay between 2000 and 2011

Maryanne Panacheese’s son, Paul, died while attending high school in Thunder Bay, Ont.

"It is very painful when this happens. When we lose one of our children": Mashkawi-Manidoo Bimaadiziwin Spirit to Soar

2 months ago
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Maryanne Panacheese speaks at a memorial service for her son, Paul, in Thunder Bay. Paul was one of seven First Nations students who died in the city between 2000 and 2011, after travelling there from a remote community to attend high school. 1:50

With no high school in Mishkeegogamang First Nation, Paul Panacheese left his remote community to attend high school in Thunder Bay, Ont., more than 300 kilometres away. 

During his time in the city, Paul lived in 10 different boarding homes from grades 10 to 12. In 2006, his mother, Maryanne Panacheese, moved there to be with him for his final year of high school.

With no high school in Mishkeegogamang First Nation, Paul Panacheese left his remote community to attend high school in Thunder Bay, Ont., more than 300 kilometres away. He died in Thunder Bay in 2006. (Mashkawi-Manidoo Bimaadiziwin Spirit to Soar / CBC)

Like many First Nations students in Thunder Bay, Paul experienced racism, his mother recalled. "They were throwing eggs at them, calling them names," she said.

Late one night in November 2006, Paul came home from visiting friends and collapsed on the kitchen floor. He died in hospital soon after, and the cause remains unexplained.

In 2015 and 16, an inquest was held into the deaths of Paul and six other First Nations students, all of whom died while attending school in Thunder Bay between 2000 and 2011. 

The documentary Mashkawi-Manidoo Bimaadiziwin Spirit to Soar, now streaming on CBC Gem, examines what — if anything — has changed since the youths died. An Anishinaabemowin Version of the documentary is available on CBC Gem. 

One of the 145 recommendations stemming from the inquest was to hold a proper memorial for each of the students. 

Panacheese returned to Thunder Bay for Paul's service, 13 years after he died. In her speech, she pleaded for change. 

"[Translation] It is my wish that when our children come here for school, that we ensure that they are looked after well," she said. 

"Our young people come here. We need to support them as much as we can. Make sure they come home safely."

Watch Mashkawi-Manidoo Bimaadiziwin Spirit to Soar on CBC Gem.

 

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