THUNDER BAY – The city of Thunder Bay, along with Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Fort William First Nation, are set to sign a tripartite statement of commitment to First Nations youth and families to address “the escalation of incidents of violence and racial tensions in the city" which have "created a crisis for the leadership and citizens."
The six-commitment declaration was unanimously approved Monday night by Thunder Bay city council, with Fort William First Nation chief and council and Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler also endorsing the document. It will be officially signed Tuesday morning.
Fiddler had previously requested the city and Fort Willliam First Nation to declare states of emergency but at a meeting attended by leadership from all three parties held earlier this month, city officials stated the ask did not meet provincial legislation for emergencies.
“That legislation relates more to natural disasters or significant incidents such as floods and forest fires, both of which everyone will know Thunder Bay has utilized many times in the past few years,” city manager Norm Gale told council.
In January, Barbara Kentner, an Indigenous woman, was struck in the abdomen by a trailer hitch allegedly thrown by an 18-year-old in a passing vehicle. She died months later, though police and the coroner have not publicly stated whether the incident contributed to her death.
Then in May the bodies of Indigenous teens Tammy Keeash, 17, and Josiah Begg, 14, were found in city waterways after they were reportedly last seen on the same night. The Thunder Bay Police Service said Keeash’s cause of death was determined by the coroner to be consistent with drowning, with no evidence of criminality. The coroner has publicly withheld Begg’s cause of death at the request of the family. The Office of the Chief Coroner enlisted the York Regional Police Service to assist with the investigation.
Their cases came nearly one year after a coroner’s inquest jury made 145 recommendations after examining the deaths of seven students from remote First Nations communities who died while attending high school in Thunder Bay. Five of those youth, who died between 2000 and 2011, were found dead in Thunder Bay rivers.
The statement of commitment acknowledges “the safety and well-being of First Nation students attending high school in Thunder Bay is a priority and demands immediate action” and that “individual racism exists in Thunder Bay and must not be tolerated, but actively and fervently challenged by all members of the community.” It adds that “systemic racism exists in Thunder Bay and must be dismantled, with appropriate accountability by all organizations, institutions and members of the community.”
Commitments included in the statement include developing an anti-racism campaign “to raise awareness and eliminate racism against Indigenous people in Thunder Bay by challenging racist, hateful, ignorant discourse directed toward Indigenous people; address systemic racism in organizations and institutions in our community.”
The city, along with NAN and Fort William First Nation, will also collaboratively develop and implement a Student Safety Plan with short-term actions for students coming to school in Thunder Bay in September.
“The issue is time sensitive,” Gale said. “The commitment relates to efforts being made by all parties to improve conditions for students coming to Thunder Bay to attend school as early as this September – or shortly – next month.”