Tbnewswatch Local News
Wednesday July 1 2015
3:26 PM EDT
2014-01-20 at 17:41

Repairing bridges

Fort William First Nation chief Georjann Morriseau speaks at Monday
Matt Vis, tbnewswatch.com
Fort William First Nation chief Georjann Morriseau speaks at Monday's Building Bridges panel at Lakehead University.
By Matt Vis, tbnewswatch.com

The James Street Swing Bridge fire ignited a racial outburst on social media last year, but now a newly formed panel is looking for ways to repair the damage.

The bridge between the City of Thunder Bay and the Fort William First Nations caught fire on the evening of Oct. 29. The blaze led to a racial backlash on Twitter, with many local users mocking the First Nation as firefighters continued to try and snuff out the flames.

The Building Bridges panel, assembled by Lakehead University Student Union vice-president Charmaine Romaniuk, on Monday attempted to start a conversation to address the racism that was revealed that October night.

“Instead of being reactive, let’s be proactive and really think of a means to collaborate and put measures in place,” said Fort William First Nations Chief Georjann Morriseau, who was one of the speakers on the panel at Lakehead University’s Agora building. 

Morriseau likened the tone of some of those racist tweets to the 1988 film Mississippi Burning, a movie that focused on deep-seeded hatred and racism in the southern United States.

“Racism in this fashion seems so archaic,” she said. “It’s just moved onto the Internet … it’s shocking that we’re still dealing with racism.”

But Morriseau said she was elated to hear the student union was taking the initiative to open up a dialogue about the issue. She added that she sees current students and the youth as being instruments of an ideological shift.

“I believe the younger generation will be key and they are fundamental in moving forward with this change,” she said. “I think that young people have not only the energy and passion, they have the intellect and desire to move beyond generational racism, hate or the limitations they face.”

Joining the Fort William First Nation chief on the Building Bridges panel was Coun. Rebecca Johnson and the City of Thunder Bay’s Aboriginal liaison Ann Magiskan.

Magiskan discussed her desire, as a grandmother, to try to provide her grandchildren with a life where they aren’t subjected to racism like she had been. Achieving that starts with education, she said.

“I think it’s very important we broaden our understanding of First Nation people and develop and recognize the history and contributions that were made to Canada as it is today,” Magiskan said.

While a conversation is a great way to promote awareness, Morriseau admits there is a need for real action, and the First Nation chief has an action plan.

Morriseau and Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs held a media conference in the immediate aftermath of the fire to show solidarity. The two leaders pledged to work to improve relations between both communities.

“We’ve had many discussions since then and we’ve worked on defining the declaration between the City of Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation,” Morriseau said when asked what has happened in the three months that followed that news conference.

“(The declaration) has to encompass not only the business and economic side, but the historical issues … social aspect and educational needs.”




Click here to submit a letter to the editor.

Click here to report a typo or error



We've improved our comment system.
socialist_fool says:
Sure, let's get the *important* things fixed, like bridges that give us access to our cheap gas and cigarettes. That's all I'm reading when I see these comments, and that is a sad fact. Racism is still a huge issue in our city, and yes, it will take a long time and hard work to fix it. Those of you saying this effort "is beating a dead horse" are the very people who create barriers to progress.

White, middle class perspective is strong in these comments. Try looking at the issue from a different angle than your own for once.
1/22/2014 10:38:57 AM
New Democrat says:
This incident happened three months ago! It was talked about in the media and on Facebook for about a month straight. What more can possibly be said on this issue? There was racism in Thunder Bay before this incident and there will be racism after it. This wasn't surprising in the least.

Treating the stupid statements of dumb kids as representative of non-natives in the city as a whole is racist! Newsflash: We don't all think alike!

Why doesn't the city sit down with FWFN and the railroad and talk about repairing/widening the roadbed to make it safer for vehicles and pedestrians. Obviously the bridge is structurally sound enough as it is supporting trains and has been given the all clear from engineers.

Bringing up this issue again is beating a dead horse with no good, obtainable objective in mind. It's just out to promote more victimization. I like Chief Morriseau, so it pains me to see her as part of this charade. Shut up, fix the bridge, and move on.
1/21/2014 10:18:42 PM
mike_tbay says:
Okay, enough with the committees and talk about the dumb kids who posted racial slurs. JUST FIX THE BRIDGE ALREADY...THIS IS RIDICULOUS
1/21/2014 3:53:03 PM
internettoughguy19 says:
Just great, like I posted before the issue of the fixing the bridge will become second priority to the issue of racism. Now what will happen is alot of talk and no action, because this panel and all the people on it will pat each other on the back for a job well done. The fact remains the bridge is closed and it will remain closed and no amount of talk and or meetings will get it fixed. My suggestion to this panel is if you want to make affect REAL change grab a hammer, boards and nails and go out and build the bridge literally. Please don't just talk about building bridges metaphorically get it done and then talk all you want. All I know is as an Aboriginal person I am fed up of being used as a pawn in every little thing that is wrong with this city. Sometimes I wish these politicians would put down their coffee cups, put on a hard hat and get out there and build realities not fantasies. Racism was here when I was a kid, it will be here when I'm an old man NOW FIX THE BRIDGE.
1/21/2014 2:34:24 PM
minstrel says:
or as you say, YOU fix it then.
1/21/2014 8:46:12 PM
mystified says:
Racism will always exist and there is a healthy dose found right here in comments on this site. It's not in bold type but if you read between the lines it is there.
The only bridge that needs fixing at the moment is the swing bridge.
1/21/2014 9:16:43 AM
TIC says:
Comparing those comments to the movie Mississippi Burning has to be one of the dumbest things I have ever heard. Did she actually watch that movie because the two incidents couldn't be more different. I feel as though continuing on like this and creating panels and comitees for every little thing that happen will only make things worse not better. All this does is draw attention to those who were seeking it in the first place. Don't feed the trolls.
1/21/2014 8:31:02 AM
Eastender says:
It is good to see something positive coming out of this whole thing. I think Georjann Morriseau is going to do a lot of good towards mending the racial gap that seems to exist in this city.

However I believe that the racial slurs that appeared on the internet represented a very small group of bigots, and were not the sentiment of the majority of this city.
1/20/2014 10:09:27 PM
hotdog says:
I would have thought this whole matter would have been sorted out on Facebook. Fair and Square.
1/20/2014 9:10:21 PM
trevor99 says:
I respect this new Chief but lets not use the statements of a vocal minority to drive another process to eliminate racism when in fact things have probably never been better. They never will be perfect but we do not need another committee to address this issue.

Racism is a two way street unfortunately. I have run into many natives who are far more racist than what I have seen from non-natives in the past decade. Some of that may be based on past treatment. Some of it unfortunately is learned behaviour from their parents.

While native people/culture were treated horribly in our history, that has not been the case for many years. Sure there are still idiots but they are the minority.

Working together to build a strong regional economy, solving the bridge issue, making joint public statements when these idiots speak is the solution, not another forum, another meeting or another committee.

We have enough of those I think.

1/20/2014 6:51:16 PM
Comments for this story are semi-moderated. Read our comment guideline.

Add a new comment.
You must log in to add comments.
Create a new account
Log In