Still more work to do on 7 Indigenous student death inquest recommendations, advocates, governments say
Recent report noted progress, but consistent funding needed to tackle larger issues
While a recent report by lawyers representing families of six of seven Indigenous students whose deaths in Thunder Bay, Ont., were the subject of a months-long inquest shows action from all levels of government and Indigenous education authorities, there is still a lot of work to do.
That's according to Indigenous youth advocates, governments and the students' families' legal representatives who compiled the report, which examined how the parties, to whom the seven youth inquest jury made 145 recommendations in 2016, are following through with those calls to action.
- AudioGovernments, education authorities making progress on 7 Indigenous youth inquest recommendations, report says
"This is a dynamic process and the work gets harder," Aboriginal Legal Services program director Jonathan Rudin told reporters when unveiling the report. "The jury made some very far-reaching recommendations ... those are often systemic changes."
It's those systemic changes that will ultimately have the biggest impact on ensuring that young people don't die when coming to the city from the remote north for education or other services not available close to home, said Ardelle Sagutcheway, an Indigenous advocate from Eabametoong First Nation who was part of the youth advisory committee struck for the inquest.
It's for that reason, Sagutcheway said, that she wants to see faster progress.
"After the inquest concluded, it was imperative, it was important to be able to start on those recommendations right away in order to save lives, in order to make sure no more young people are tragically dying here in the city," she said.
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Jethro Anderson, 15, Curran Strang, 18, Robyn Harper, 19, Paul Panacheese, 21, Reggie Bushie, 15, Kyle Morrisseau, 17 and Jordan Wabasse,15, all died in Thunder Bay between November 2000 and May 2011. They were all in the city from remote northern Ontario First Nations attending school.
Aboriginal Legal Services' year-one report in 2017 was critical of the overall initial response to the inquest recommendations, with particular emphasis on the federal government — who is ultimately responsible for, not only the largest number of recommendations but also the largest in scope — but Rudin said that in 2018 "they actually moved away from ... issuing talking points from a budget statement to actually engaging in what the recommendations were."
Indigenous Services Canada said in a statement that it has and continues to establish and continue "concrete activities" in response to the inquest such as billions in new funding for elementary and secondary education, specifically targeted in areas like instructional services, language and cultural programming, literacy and high-cost special education.
Additionally, Ottawa said it has provided investments in other areas like increased guidance counselling, boarding homes, safety and in-school mental wellness, as well as money through Jordan's Principle and community-level youth mental health.
Ultimately, the progress that Indigenous education service providers will be able to make "is going to depend on continued funding from the federal government and sometimes the provincial government," Rudin told reporters on Wednesday.
Sagutcheway said a major recommendation tasked to Ottawa that needs to be completed — one that Wednesday's update noted is still in progress — is the one that calls for the complete elimination of discrepancies between programs, services and educational outcomes for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
Many other long-term recommendations aimed at systemic change, such as those around poverty, suicide prevention, substance abuse and long-term consistent and reliable funding are still works-in-progress, according to Aboriginal Legal Services' report.
"We also have the new generation of Indigenous youth that are growing up and also that are going to be going into high school," Sagutcheway said, adding that, in September, one of those will be her daughter.
With files from Jody Porter