Canada | Law

Inquest fails to resolve deaths of four Native students in Ontario






Sunset over Thunder Bay, Ontario. Photo by Tony Webster

An inquiry into the deaths of seven young Native people in Ontario ended without a clear resolution last month.

Jethro Anderson, 15; Curran Strang; 18, Robyn Harper, 19' Paul Panacheese, 21; Reggie Bushie, 15; Kyle Morrisseau, 17; and Jordan Wabasse, 15, died between November 2000 and May 2011. They had all be sent from their respective First Nations to attend school in Thunder Bay, the second-largest city in the northern part of the province.

The inquest determined that the deaths of Bushie, Harper and Strang were accidental. Bushie, who was from the Poplar Hill First Nation, was found in the McIntyre River, as was Strang, who was was from the Pikangikum First Nation. Harper, who was from the Keewaywin First Nation, suffered from an overdose of alcohol.

The jury was unable to come to a conclusion on the deaths of Anderson, who was from the Kasabonika Lake First Nation and Morrisseau, who was from the Keewaywin First Nation. The deaths of Panacheese, who from the Mishkeegogamang First Nation, and Wabasse, who was from the Webequie First Nation, were also undetermined.

“Somebody else does know something out there, but I don’t think it will ever come up, or maybe it’s too late to come up," Christian Morriseau, who is Kyle's father, told The New York Times.

About 8.2 percent of the population in Thunder Bay is Native. The city has historically drawn a large number of Native students who are unable to go to school on their reserves due to a lack of educational opportunities.

“The inquest proceedings have been long and difficult for the families of the deceased youth. Each family, like the jury and public, has heard evidence and details about their children’s death," Christa Big Canoe, the legal advocacy director at Aboriginal Legal Services and an attorney who represented six of the families in the inquest, said in a press release "The families believe that the recommendations that the jury has made must be implemented to prevent future similar deaths and so that other families do not have to endure the loss of children like Jethro, Paul, Curran, Robyn, Reggie, Kyle and Jordan."

Get the Story:
Unsolved Deaths of Indigenous Canadian Students Offer a Glimpse of Hardship (The New York Times 7/14)
Indigenous youth reflect on recommendations from First Nations student deaths inquest (CBC 6/29)
Inquest dubs 3 First Nations youth deaths accidental, while 4 others remain a mystery (CBC 6/28)

Relevant Documents:
Verdict of Coroner’s Jury (June 2016)

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Inquiry scheduled into deaths of seven Native youth in Ontario (09/21)
Inquest into deaths of Native students in Ontario faces a delay (05/07)
Inquest process starts for deaths of seven Native students (06/11)
Native parents concerned as students return to school in Ontario (1/8)
CBC News: Dying for an Education - The case of Charlie Wenjack (9/6)
Inquest called into deaths of First Nations students from Ontario (6/1)
First Nations request inquiry into deaths of students in Ontario (5/24)
Seven Native youth have died while at off-reserve school (5/16)