Thunder Bay·Audio

Tammy Keeash, Josiah Begg remembered at prayer walk in Thunder Bay

The lives of two teenagers found dead in Thunder Bay's McIntyre River system are being honoured in the city Thursday.

North Caribou Lake First Nation chief says she hopes walk will bring communities together

People packed McGillivray Square in front of Thunder Bay city hall on Thursday for a prayer walk to honour Tammy Keeash and Josiah Begg, two Indigenous teens who were found dead in Thunder Bay in May. (Jeff Walters / CBC)

Hundreds of people turned out to remember the lives of two Indigenous teenagers from remote northern Ontario First Nations who were found dead in the McIntyre River system in Thunder Bay, Ont., in May.

The community prayer walk was held Thursday to remember Tammy Keeash, 17, from North Caribou Lake First Nation and Josiah Begg, 14, from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug. They both went missing on the evening of May 6, and their bodies were found about two weeks apart.

"What I'm hoping for — not hoping — I believe it will happen, is that we start working together," North Caribou Lake Chief Dinah Kanate told CBC News prior to the walk. The community is organizing Thursday's walk, and officials from the City of Thunder Bay also took part.

The event's theme is "Love, Compassion, Empathy, Accountability and Empowerment."

At Thursday's pre-walk ceremonies, North Caribou Lake Coun. Grace Matawapit also called for unity.

The event started at 1 p.m. at Thunder Bay city hall where a large crowd gathered.  The day's itinerary was also scheduled to include stops at the Nishnawbe Aski Nation offices and the hope and memory garden along the banks of the McIntyre River to lay white roses.

The walk will end at the Thunder Bay police station with closing ceremonies. 
The body of Tammy Keeash was discovered in the Neebing-McIntyre floodway in May. (Thunder Bay Police)

"[Keeash's] life was just beginning when it tragically ended," North Caribou Lake community officials said in a news release. "Although she faced many challenges, she found the courage and strength to turn her life around."

Keeash, who was a Junior Canadian Ranger, was living in a group home in Thunder Bay; Begg was in the city with his father for a medical appointment.
Josiah Begg's body was found in the McIntyre River about two weeks after the body of Tammy Keeash was found. (Thunder Bay Police Service)

City officials in Thunder Bay said transit buses were available for the event to bring people from Grassroots Church on Balmoral Street to city hall.  Another bus was scheduled to return people from Grassroots Church, at the end of the walk, to to city hall, if needed.  A bus followed the walkers throughout their trek.

City police advised that they will assist with the prayer walk and that drivers should expect delays, especially along Balmoral Street between 1:30 p.m.and 3:30 p.m.

Police said motorists should use caution in the area or choose a different route.

'Looking for answers'

In announcing plans for Thursday's walk, North Caribou Lake's leadership said that many people from Keeash's and Begg's home communities want information about how the teenagers ended up in the river.

"The parents, communities, families and friends are looking for answers to what circumstances led to their disappearance and their deaths in the McIntyre River," the First Nation's statement said. "These questions need to be addressed."

City police have said there was "no evidence to indicate criminality" in Keeash's death.

On Wednesday, First Nations leadership representing dozens of communities in northwestern Ontario held a press conference in Toronto where they officially called for the RCMP to be put in charge of the investigations into the deaths of Begg, Keeash and Stacy DeBungee, who was also found in the McIntyre River in 2015.

DeBungee's case also prompted an investigation by Ontario's civilian police oversight body. It's examining allegations of racism in the way the force deals with all Indigenous deaths.

Opening ceremonies for Thursday's walk started at 1 p.m. with an opening prayer and remarks. The walk itself departed from city hall around 1:30 p.m., with closing ceremonies at the police headquarters scheduled for just before 3:30 p.m.