Thunder Bay·Audio

Memorial walk for Tammy Keeash, Josiah Begg hears calls for unity, keeping everyone safe

Unity and keeping everyone safe were two central themes expressed in remarks made prior to a walk to honour the lives of two Indigenous teenagers found dead in Thunder Bay, Ont.

'We need to work together to resolve these issues': FWFN Chief Peter Collins says

Over 200 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)

Unity and keeping everyone safe were two central themes expressed in remarks made prior to a walk to honour the lives of two Indigenous teenagers found dead in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Thursday's walk in the northwestern Ontario city was to remember Tammy Keeash, 17, from North Caribou Lake First Nation and Josiah Begg, 14, from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug. They both went missing on May 6, and their bodies were found in the McIntyre River system about two weeks apart.

"We just want to heal from what we have lost," Grace Matawapit, a councillor in North Caribou Lake told the crowd of over 200 people that gathered in front of Thunder Bay city hall prior to the walk. "We have lost a lot of young people."

Matawapit knows this first-hand. In 2014, her grandson Daniel Levac was stabbed to death outside the Silver City movie theatre in Thunder Bay while attending high school in the city. His alleged killer's case is still before the courts.

"I know when I lost my grandson ... I placed a lot of confidence in the police when they did their job," she told the assembled crowd, which also included a number of members of the city police service. "You meet them half way ... to what they're trying to do."

The city's police service has been under heavy scrutiny — includingan ongoing review by the province's civilian police oversight body and a call for the RCMP to be put in charge of the investigations into Begg's and Keeash's deaths —.but Matawapit said Thursday's events were not about protest.

"We're here to look for healing, we're not here to hold up signs and protest," she continued. "We're not here to do that."

Those words were echoed by community leaders in the Lakehead.

"Thunder Bay is my home and I want my home to be safe," Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins said when addressing the crowd. "We must work together, we must change the focus of where we're going."
Central themes expressed by Indigenous leaders prior to the walk included unity and keeping everyone safe. (Jeff Walters / CBC)

"We have to depoliticize" the issue of young people dying, Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs told CBC News, adding "we have to start caring for people and caring about what's going on in this community."

He added that having municipalities sit down with First Nations, and provincial and federal levels of government is key.

The walkers taking part in Thursday's event left city hall around 1:30 p.m. From there, they were scheduled to stop by the offices of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation and a memorial garden along the banks of the McIntyre River before heading north along Balmoral Street for closing ceremonies at the Thunder Bay police headquarters.