Struggle for Justice Leads to Journey of Faith

Article excerpt

Winnipeg

RAVEN THUNDERSKY steps forward from the pews of St. Matthew's Anglican Church to light a candle. Pausing in the dim, flickering light, she glances down at the photo in her hand. It is her sister, Malvina, who died 10 years ago at the age of 35. In her late sister's arms is Ms. Thundersky's niece, who lost her mother because of asbestos poisoning in government reserve housing decades ago.

Since then, the deadly insulation fibre has claimed the lives of Ms. Thundersky's mother and three sisters. One sister died of cancer just days before the Anglican-hosted vigil. Her father and brother are ill, and Ms. Thundersky is uncertain of her own fate.

All this could have been averted, she said, had the government and mining companies come clean to the public about the dangers of asbestos. Today, Canada is a leading exporter of asbestos in the world, despite bans in many countries.

Ms. Thundersky, recently named a Canadian Hero by Time Magazine, told Anglican Journal that her struggle for justice has strengthened her faith.

"For a long time, I was just so devastated," she revealed. "I never wanted to believe we would all die from this poison. I was at a point in my life when I didn't know where to turn. It shook up my faith."

After years of government denial, she and her husband Allan Aitken launched a lawsuit in June, suing both the federal government and WR Grace Corp., which produced the asbestos.

Neither WR Grace, which has filed for bankruptcy as a result of similar lawsuits in the U.S., or Grace Canada, its Canadian affiliate, would speak to the Journal.

Still, Ms. Thundersky wants answers for her family and others who have died of mesothelioma, a deadly asbestos-related lung cancer. According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, it is "a rare form of cancer in which malignant cells are found in the mesothelium, a protective sac that covers most of the body's internal organs."

At a vigil hosted at St. Matthew's, supporters lit candles to commemorate victims of the disease and bless Ms. Thundersky in her struggle.

She told 40 supporters about her childhood on reserve in Norway House, Man. In 1964, an Indian agent, acting for the federal government, condemned her family home--labeling the log cabin, with traditional moss insulation, "unsuitable for habitation." Her family was pushed into modern housing built with the deadly insulator asbestos, even though it had been linked to disease for decades.

"This is a public relations disaster for Canada because they haven't given Raven's family the respect they deserve," said Chief Terrence Nelson, of Roseau River First Nation.

Allan Aitken believes moving the family was part of Canada's now-discredited strategy towards aboriginal people.

"That was (the federal department of) Indian Affairs' way of assimilating the Indians," said Mr. …