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Families prepare for upcoming inquest into youth deaths

Thursday February 14, 2013
Wawatay News archives
A Dennis Franklin Cromarty student says fairwell during a ceremony to honour the students who died in the McIntyre River since 2000.

The families of seven Nishnawbe Aski Nation youth who died while attending school in Thunder Bay gathered last week to begin preparations for the joint inquest into the deaths.

A three-day meeting was held from Feb. 12-14 to allow families to meet each other, educate themselves on the process of the inquest and offer suggestions as to elements that should be included.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said it is important for the families to not only be prepared for the inquest, but to be ready to support each other during what is sure to be an emotional and painful ordeal.

“This was a good opportunity to get to know each other, these families who have the common experience of losing a loved one,” Fiddler said. “There will be other supports in place (during the inquest), but they’ll be the main ones to support each other.”

Seven NAN youth died between 2000 and 2011 while attending school in Thunder Bay. An inquest into the death of Reggie Bushie of Poplar Hill was halted in 2011 due to jury roll issues in Thunder Bay, at which point calls for a broader inquiry into the deaths of all seven youth came from NAN.

While the joint inquest, which was called on May 31, 2012, was originally expected to start in the spring of 2013, northwest Ontario regional coroner Dr. Michael Wilson told Wawatay that a spring 2013 start date is unlikely.

“With the number of interviews and amount of investigation that is being done, it is likely not going to start in the spring of this year,” Wilson said.

While he would not commit to a start date, he did say it is in everyone’s best interest to have the inquest start as soon as possible.

Wilson said the meeting with families was a good opportunity to start the process of communication that is so vital to having the inquest succeed.

“It is very productive that the families have every opportunity to have their voices heard,” Wilson said.

Also at the meeting was Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) detective inspector Peter Loree, who is overseeing the OPP’s reopening of the investigation into the seven deaths.

As for NAN’s role in the inquest, Fiddler said the organization will be there to do everything possible to ensure the families have all the support they need as the process unfolds.

And once the inquest wraps up, Fiddler emphasized that NAN leaders will have an obligation and a duty to ensure that the recommendations result in effective change.

“As leaders, we owe it to the youth that have passed on that we will do everything we can to press the Canadian and Ontario governments to work with us on implementing the recommendations,” Fiddler said. “We’d like to see broader, systematic changes.”

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