Thunder Bay

Anishinaabe elder calls for end to racism, violence in Thunder Bay, Ont.

A group calling itself Not One More Death held a public event on Tuesday to mourn deaths due to poverty and racism in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Names of loved ones who died by violence or suicide written on birch bark, attached to a teepee

"You are loved and you are beautiful people. There's no reason we should hate each other," Elder Ma-Nee Chacaby tells a crowd gathered at an event organized by the group, Not One More Death, in Thunder Bay. (Jody Porter/CBC)

A group calling itself Not One More Death held a public event on Tuesday to mourn deaths due to poverty and racism in Thunder Bay, Ont.

They set up teepee poles in Patterson Park, across from the Thunder Bay courthouse, and invited people to write the names of loved ones who died prematurely on birch bark tags. The names were then attached to the teepee.

"Death is not something to take easily. It's serious. We have to remember everyone that died a severe death," said Anishinaabe Elder Ma-Nee Chacaby, the spokesperson for the Not One More Death group.

"It's a good way to remind each other that we don't believe in violence any more," she said. "Thunder Bay should get off their ass and start cleaning up these things and start looking at how to stop the racism in Thunder Bay in the first place."

"I think it's a good way to remind each other that we don't believe in violence," says Elder Ma-Nee Chacaby of the teepee poles hung with the names of people who died in acts of violence in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Jody Porter/CBC)

The group is calling for "gatherings on or near each solstice and equinox for the community to gather and mourn those who have died prematurely, and celebrate life, love and resistance," according to a news release it issued.

For Chacaby, "the [fall] equinox goes with pain and sorrow, with fall and winter, the end of summer. It's a good time to celebrate and honour these people who are dead. They need to be remembered. Why can't we honour the ones that were violently killed, or violently died or died by suicide. There's a reason for that. We need to honour them."

One of the names attached to the teepee was placed by Melissa Kentner, honouring her sister Barbara Kentner. Barbara died in 2017, less than six months after being struck by a trailer hitch thrown from a passing car. The trial for the man accused of throwing the hitch is set for October.

Melissa Kentner places the name of her sister, Barbara Kentner, on a teepee honouring people who have died violent deaths in Thunder Bay during an event on Sept. 22, 2020. (Jody Porter/CBC)

"We should remember Barbara," Chacaby said, calling the recent reduction in charges in the case "a disgrace."

"If I did something to someone, they would slap me and throw away the key," she said. "The justice [system] is so horrible."

At the event, group members also called out the things they say contribute to deaths in the city, including police violence, the Thunder Bay district jail, the child welfare system and poverty. Those words were also written on birch bark and placed on the ground inside the teepee circle.

About 50 people attended the gathering in the park.

In announcing the event, Not One More Death said it is made up of Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants who want to "experiment with and model new forms of decolonized relationships. We hope these models will inspire the transformation of society."

"For many years, the City of Thunder Bay never really worked with First Nations," Chacaby said. "They just did what they wanted to do. We almost felt like we were strangers here. Even the people who were here before the white people came. We were over-rided for everything. Then it became their stuff."

"I'm not attacking them, I'm just saying what I saw all these years," she said. "The goal is to help the city understand the First Nations that live here."