Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ontario Inquest Bears Echo of Residential School Tragedy: First Nation Leader

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ontario Inquest Bears Echo of Residential School Tragedy: First Nation Leader

Article excerpt

Inquest carries echo of residential schools

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OTTAWA - An Ontario inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations high school students is raising difficult questions and themes sure to be echoed by a forthcoming inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, aboriginal leaders say.

The inquiry, which resumes Monday in Thunder Bay, is exploring how the deaths were investigated and the level of communication between officials and families, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said in an interview.

Nishnawbe Aski is one of the parties with standing at the inquest.

"I think there are a couple of themes that have emerged from this inquest that we see a strong parallel with the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls," Fiddler said.

"One is the racism that these students experienced here in Thunder Bay and the lack of proper attention by the authorities into these deaths. There were delays in launching a full-scale search for these students once they were reported missing."

The inquest, which is being conducted in phases in front of a jury, is exploring what happened to 15-year-old Jethro Anderson, 18-year-old Curran Strang, 21-year-old Paul Panacheese, 19-year-old Robyn Harper, 17-year-old Kyle Morrisseau, 15-year-old Jordan Wabasse and 15-year-old Reggie Bushie.

The deaths, which occurred between 2000 and 2011, all took place while the students were living in Thunder Bay, away from their First Nations communities, in order to be able to attend high school.

Many northern Ontario communities lack high schools, which forces young people to live in boarding houses that are closer to available facilities, Fiddler said.

"For the most part, you don't have a choice but to go to high school -- whether it is in Sioux Lookout or Timmins or Thunder Bay," he said.

It's an experience with which Fiddler has first-hand knowledge.

"For me, it was the realization I was one of those kids," he said, recalling the memory of leaving his First Nations community to attend school in Sioux Lookout and Thunder Bay.

"It hits pretty close to home. You can't help but feel that you have to do something about what was happening -- and what is happening. …

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