7 First Nation student deaths, 145 inquest recommendations, little change as class begins in Thunder Bay, Ont.
The school year begins at Dennis Franklin Cromarty First Nations high school in Thunder Bay, Ont., much the way it ended last spring, despite a coroner's inquest into the deaths of seven students which issued 145 recommendations in June.
School starts on Thursday, welcoming students who flew to Thunder Bay earlier this week from their remote First Nations where there are no high schools.
Seven First Nations students died in Thunder Bay between 2000 and 2011. A coroner's inquest wrapped up in June, issuing recommendations for keeping Indigenous students safe in the city.
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"It is a really scary place when kids are in a community and they don't feel safe," said Laura Arndt, the director of advocacy services with the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.
The advocate's office took part in the inquest and held regular meetings with a youth advisory panel throughout the process and recently held a follow-up meeting.
"Young people were part of this process for nine months and after it was all said and done they still don't have the faith that a great deal was going to move forward," Arndt said.
Some preliminary discussions have taken place among First Nations organizations, city officials and police but there has been little progress on recommendations such as building a student residence in Thunder Bay.
The inquest jury also made several recommendations about easing the transition for First Nations students from small, isolated communities who arrive alone in a city they may have never seen before.
But this year's orientation activities for students are expected to be much the same as last year. Dates have yet to be confirmed for events planned by the school, Nishnawbe Aski Nation or the city.
The city clerk says administration is preparing a package of the inquest recommendations that are directed at the City of Thunder Bay for councillors to review in October.
Arndt said there is a role for the broader community to "clearly state to the children as they arrive that this is a safe place for them and this is home while they're away from their communities."
"We need to make sure that we don't lose another generation of children from our northern communities," she said. "Because of leaving their communities for school they lose their lives. That's not fair and that's not what we would want for anybody."