The Current

ENCORE: Thunder Bay inquest examines death of 7 First Nations high school students

Seven First Nations students, each dead under bewildering circumstances over the period of a decade, found in Thunder Bay where they'd moved for school. The Current's Marc Apollonio speaks with the families hoping for answers with the inquest.
Maryanne Panacheese, Mishkeegogamang member and mother of Paul Panacheese (in photo) who died in Thunder Bay, while attending Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in 2006. (Marc Apollonio/CBC)

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Mishkeegogamang is an Ojibway First Nation about 500 km north of Thunder Bay. It does not have a high school and students who wish to continue their education often travel to Thunder Bay. (Marc Apollonio/CBC)

In Oct. 2015, coroner David Eden launched one of the largest inquests in Ontario's history, an inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students. They'd left their homes in remote, northern Ontario and travelled to the city of Thunder Bay for high school.

Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School, or DFC, is a school for First Nations students in Thunder Bay. (Marc Apollonio/CBC)

 The testimony of the about 150 witnesses who took the stand was filled with stories of the loneliness and racism that the students encountered, as well as alcohol and drug abuse, accusations of inadequate police investigations, and a systemic failure to protect these young people.

Connie Gray McKay ­is the chief of Mishkeegogamang First Nation, and mother of 28 year ­old son, Henry Baker. Back when Henry was 13, he joined the exodus of youth leaving home for a diploma. (Marc Apollonio/CBC)
You want to scare them because you know. So what do you tell them to scare them? Tell them that somebody can throw [you] in a car and kill you.- Connie Gray McKay, mother of two daughters in high school in Thunder Bay

In March, as the inquest entered its final stages, family and friends hoped for answers.

The Current's Marc Apollonio's documentary, Out There, originally aired in May.

Fourteen-year-old Savannah Gray loves shooting hoops at the gym in Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in Thunder Bay. But the loneliness hits when she thinks about her mom back home. (Marc Apollonio/CBC)

(Ben Shannon/CBC)


In June, the coroner ruled that the cause of death of Paul Panacheese, Kyle Morriseau, Jethro Anderson, and Jordan Wabasse were undetermined.  Robyn Harper, Curran Strang and Reggie Bushie's deaths were deemed to be an accident.

The Ontario Coroner's jury of five then went on to unveil 145 recommendations, some of which included providing a school to any First Nations community that wants one.

Other recommendations:

  • funding early childhood education, daycare and schools the same as every other Ontario school;
  • impoverished students to be given the means to phone their parents while they are away at school in Thunder Bay;
  • an opportunity to allow these same students the chance to fly home in the fall and holidays;
  • And basic standards and inspections in boarding homes for students, including criminal records checks of boarding parents.

This documentary was produced by The Current's Marc Apollonio and documentary editor, Joan Webber.