Thunder Bay

'Vision of mutual respect' can help Thunder Bay, Ont., in wake of Barbara Kentner's death, ONWA says

The tragedy of Barbara Kentner's death shows it's time for people in Thunder Bay to come together and work for change, says Cora-Lee McGuire-Cyrette, the executive director of the Ontario Native Women's Association, which is headquartered in the northern Ontario city.

Time to 'stand up as a community and show that we can work together,' says Cora-Lee McGuire-Cyrette

Barbara Kentner, right, is shown with her cousin, Debbie Kakagamic. Kentner's funeral will take place at noon today. (Debbie Kakagamic/Facebook)

The tragedy of Barbara Kentner's death shows it's time for people in Thunder Bay to come together and work for change, says Cora-Lee McGuire-Cyrette, the executive director of the Ontario Native Women's Association, which is headquartered in the northern Ontario city.

Kentner, 34, of Wabigoon Lake First Nation, died last week. Her family told CBC News that Kentner never recovered from injuries suffered in what her cousin described as "a horrific act of racism." 

In January, Kentner was struck by a trailer hitch thrown at her from a moving car as she walked home in a residential neighbourhood.

First Nations people regularly report having food, drinks and racial slurs hurled at them from passing cars in Thunder Bay.

Kentner's death comes the same week chiefs are meeting to determine if the city is safe enough for their young people who come to Thunder Bay for high school.

The bodies of two First Nations teens — Tammy Keeash and Josiah Begg — turned up in the McIntyre River system in May. Since 2000, five other teens have been found dead in rivers that flow through Thunder Bay.

All but two of the deaths remain unsolved, sparking criticism of Thunder Bay police.

Work needs to begin now to make Thunder Bay a safe place for the next generation, says Cora-Lee McGuire-Cyrette, executive director of the Ontario Native Women's Association. (Cora-Lee McGuire-Cyrette/Facebook)
"With these crises, I think it's a perfect opportunity for us to mobilize and stand up as a community and show that we can work together," said McGuire-Cyrette.

She described Kentner as a loving sister, mother and cousin who had a good sense of humour, loved children and was touched by the care shown by many people during the last days of her life.

"The tragedy, and the beauty that has shone out of the tragedy, is that our community came together through a GoFundMe account, through cards and flowers from strangers, and that love she was shown from her community these past few months actually brought tears to her eyes," McGuire-Cyrette said.

The social media fundraiser, set up to pay for Kentner's funeral costs, more than doubled its $10,000 goal. The surplus will be spent on education for Kentner's 16-year-old daughter, Serena, according to the website.

McGuire-Cyrette said the kindness shown to Kentner at the end of her life needs to be harnessed to save other lives.

Barbara Kentner loved the flowers she received in hospital, according to her cousin Debbie Kakagamic. 'She couldn't believe that people cared about her.'
"As a community, we really need to come together and create visions of safety, visions of mutual respect. We need to look at how we can work together, starting where our community is at," McGuire-Cyrette said. "Only working together will we actually make change [in] this generation."

That work has already started with the creation of a "situation table" with "willing partners" who want to address the interconnected, underlying causes of violence against Indigenous women, she said.

"We can stand up and show who we are as a community and that we can work together and be a safe community once again," she said.

The funeral for Kentner is set for Wednesday at noon in Thunder Bay. 

Brayden Bushby, 18, was arrested for aggravated assault shortly after the attack on Kentner.

Thunder Bay police said on Tuesday that they are still waiting for the coroner's office to review Kentner's autopsy results before considering a change in charge.

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