THUNDER BAY – Members of the Thunder Bay Police Service and Nishnawbe Aski Nation Police Service will spend Family Day travelling the ice roads of Northern Ontario to spread a little good will to First Nations youth.
Insp. Ryan Gibson said they’ll visit four Matawa First Nation communities, an attempt to engage students, elders and parents with safety presentations and age-appropriate activities as well as building relationships with youngsters who will be attending high school in Thunder Bay at some point in the near future.
“One, we want them to feel more comfortable when they come here for school and with whatever services they might be asking,” said Gibson, a long-time member of the TBPS.
“And also it’s to show the families left behind their children will be safe for as long as they come here and that they can count on being treated well.”
Although the trip is an extension of an ongoing attempt to connect with Matawa First Nation communities, it falls in the shadow of a pair of tragic 2016 deaths of two teenagers from remote communities who were visiting Thunder Bay for services not available in their home communities.
It’s also on the heels of a report that delved into the deaths of seven Indigenous youth between 2001 and 2011.
The youth and their family need assurances tragedies like these won’t happen again. And to re-assure them that police are there to help, Gibson said.
“We know that Thunder Bay provides a number of services. We’re a hub community, so education, health, etc. The police play a large role. We have encounters with everyone at some point,” Gibson said.
“We want people to know they can feel safe and they’ll be served properly when they come here."
“That’s why this is so important for our service and that’s why we’re so happy to have the other partners on board with us – Nishnawbe Aski Police Service, the Matawa Learning Centre, the Matawa First Nations communities and the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.”
Jackie Corbett, the vice-principal at the Matawa Learning Centre, said it’s a great initiative for future students.
“I think it’s tremendously important for our students to experience something like this with the Thunder Bay Police Service and with NAPS and all the partners involved, because they don’t get to see this happen back home in their own community,” Corbett said.
“Oftentimes a lot of times their experiences with police aren’t exactly positive, truth be known. So this will help build those bridges and develop that relationship with our students, giving them a more positive relationship with police.”
The entourage will also be bringing new floor-hockey equipment for youth in each community to use.