DFC holds annual memorial walk
Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School students Misty Meekis, Mary Ballantyne and Brittany Meekis walked with a large group of students, staff and community leaders during DFC’s annual memorial walk last week in Thunder Bay.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler does not want to see any more high school student deaths in Thunder Bay.
“That is the last thing I want to do this year is come to a funeral of one of our students,” Fiddler said during the Sept. 5 Dennis Franklin Cromarty First Nations High School memorial walk along the McIntyre River to honour six students who died while pursuing their education goals at DFC. “We’ve lost too many. One is too many; seven is way too high.”
Kasabonika Lake’s Jethro Anderson, 15, Pikangikum’s Curran Strang, 18, Mishkeegogamang’s Paul Panacheese, 19, Keewaywin’s Robyn Harper, 18, Poplar Hill’s Reggie Bushie, 15, and Keewaywin’s Kyle Morriseau, 17, died while attending DFC. Webequie’s Jordan Wabasse, 15, died while attending the Matawa Learning Centre in Thunder Bay.
Students and staff from DFC as well as numerous community leaders threw flowers and tobacco into the McIntyre River to honour the six deceased students during the memorial walk, which began with an assembly at DFC and ended at a railway bridge just west of the May Street bridge.
NAN Deputy Grand Chief Goyce Kakegamic encouraged the students to be careful and to look out for each other while in the city.
“It’s an exciting time to be alive, but there are a lot of pitfalls out there,” Kakegamic said. “It’s dangerous out there at times, so behave, look after yourselves, and if anybody is having a problem, don’t leave them behind alone. You look after them; look after each other and be safe.”
Thunder Bay Police Service Deputy Chief Andy Hay said the common denominator for most troubles and tragedies in Thunder Bay is alcohol.
“If you find yourself in a situation where your friends or your classmates are intoxicated, they’ve been drinking and they can’t take care of themselves properly, do not leave them alone,” Hay said. “Don’t abandon them; you are your brother’s keeper, you are obviously your sister’s keeper. Call somebody — let the police know, let your counsellors know, let your principal know — but make sure you get a hold of somebody.”
Since the first annual memorial walk was held in 2010, it has proved to be of benefit to some students.
“After that first year in 2010, we had a student who came to us at the end of the school year,” said Northern Nishnawbe Education Council executive director Norma Kejick.
“One of the things he said to us was, ‘you know, Mrs. Kejick, when you took us to the river at the beginning of the school year, I watched a lot of the staff crying, a lot of tears, a lot of sadness.’ And he said “I used to drink at the river all the time, but after you took us to the river, I never drank at the river again this past school year.’”
Kejick said that student’s experience indicates why NNEC has to continue educating students about the dangers of drinking in the city.
“We’ve heard there is a lot of risky behavior out there, there are a lot of dangerous places,” Kejick said. “And there’s a lot of people who prey on young people.”
Fiddler remembers “not knowing what to expect” when he first attended high school in Thunder Bay about 30 years ago.
“There’s always that apprehension or maybe even a little bit of fear not knowing what’s going to happen,” Fiddler said, noting that Northern Nishnawbe Education Council, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, the City of Thunder Bay, the Thunder Bay Police Service and others are working together to protect the students. “We want to make sure that you are safe whether you are in school, after school, in the evenings or on the weekends.”
Fiddler encouraged the students to not feel afraid.
“But you should also look after yourselves — it’s not just NNEC or the high school,” Fiddler said. “You also have a responsibility to be able to look after yourselves. And if you can’t, ask for help.”
Fiddler said the inquiry into the deaths of the seven high school students will be held in the new year.
“We’re working very closely with the families that have lost their loved ones,” Fiddler said.
“We’re planning a meeting with the families here in Thunder Bay in October to begin the preparatory work involved to get everybody (ready for) what is going to happen in the new year.”
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