Fort William First Nation cheif Georjann Morriseau presents Thunder Bay mayor Keith Hobbs with an eagle feather at a joint presss conference at city hall on Friday. The two leaders met to discuss the racism that followed Tuesday's James Street swing bridge fire.
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Georjann Morriseau was appalled by the aftermath of the James Street swing bridge fire, and does not want to fight fire with fire.
“I believe things happen for a reason, and maybe this was an opportunity for us to address something that has been very outstanding and take the time to put our priorities straight and start really trying to address the issue of racism,” said the chief of Fort William First Nations Friday.
“I couldn’t help but have an emotional reaction to that, because I don’t ever want to be ashamed of who I am and nor should anybody, regardless of what ethnicity you are.”
Morriseau met with Thunder Bay mayor Keith Hobbs at City Hall on Friday afternoon to discuss the racial outbursts that appeared on social media following Tuesday’s bridge fire, and the vandalism of a teepee on the Lakehead University campus.
Hobbs was joined by Coun. Paul Pugh, Joe Virdiramo and Iain Angus, as well as city manager Tim Commisso and city clerk John Hannam
Morriseau would welcome an opportunity for the two councils to meet and work together, something that has not officially occurred since her election.
“I see a need now more than ever to sit down council to council and really examine that declaration and see where it is we need to go and establish the necessary tables and processes that need to be put in place,” she said.
Morriseau also stressed that she knows the views of the few do not reflect the community as a whole.
“I don’t want to generalize in saying that everybody is a racist because of a few individuals who make impacting statements such as they did,” Morriseau said.
Both Morriseau and Hobbs said approximately 15,000 people a day would cross the bridge, whether it be for commuting to work or access to services on either side.
The lack of vehicular traffic for the bridge wreaks havoc on emergency response, as first responders now have to access the First Nation by going around and accessing the highway.
“If someone has a heart attack it’s going to take an ambulance eight to 10 minutes longer, so they’ve actually put lives at risk here and that’s not acceptable,” Hobbs said.
They acknowledged it is a vital lifeline for these people, and Morriseau is adamant the status quo is not enough.
“That bridge is so old. I know that my next steps will be to approach the city of Thunder Bay and CN and start collaborating and creating that dialogue between all of us to see what will actually happen,” she said
“Ideally, I’d like to see a new bridge constructed.”
Hobbs agrees there is a need for new infrastructure, but warns it is out of the hands of both the municipal government and the First Nation.
He estimated it would be an $80 million project, and said neither side can afford it without funding from additional levels of government.
“We shouldn’t have to rely on any corporation to maintain that bridge,” he said. “We should have a vehicular and pedestrian bridge over to Fort William First Nation.”
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