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article imageOp-Ed: First Nation high school students need our voice

By KJ Mullins     May 27, 2011 in World
Over the last ten years seven Nishnawbe Aski Nation high school students have died while attending at a school in Thunder Bay. The latest death was on May 10 when Jordan Wabasse was found deceased in a Thunder Bay river.
Jordan Wabasse. Kyle Morrisseau. Reggie Bushie. Jethro Anderson. Paul Panacheese. Curran Strang. Robyn Harper. Their names may not be well known but to their families and community their deaths raise questions as to how well First Nation children who travel from home in pursuit of a high school education are being looked after.
Schools for First Nation children living in remote Northern Ontario are not up to the national standard. For children in these areas they must leave their homes and families in order to get a good education. The Toronto Star reported that students going to a reserve school are funded at $2,000 less than a student at other Ontario schools.
Almost 100 First Nation teens are attending Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School. While at school they have a supportive staff and an elder on site they leave school at the end of the day with little money and no parents to look after them.
According to reports young Wabasse's, 15, death was related to alcohol. He had been missing since February 7 when he left a city bus near the boarding house he resided at.
Wabasse was an award winning hockey player. He had left his remote home in order to play organized hockey and attend high school. He was also the sixth student to have been found dead in a Thunder Bay river.
NDP leader Jack Layton spoke out about young Jordan's death this month.:
“Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with Jordan’s family, his friends and his community,” said New Democrat Leader Jack Layton. “Like many of our Aboriginal youth, Jordan had to leave his community to get an education.
“First Nations families should not have to fear for their children’s safety when they are sent away for schooling. For too many of these students, an educational necessity ends in tragedy. This is unacceptable: our First Nations youth deserve the same protection and support as other youth in Canada.”
His disappearance lead Kenora-Rainy River MPP Howard Hampton to ask the government what action was taken to find the young boy. The day after Hampton questioned the provincial government Wabasse's body was discovered.
“Can the minister explain how seven teenage citizens of Ontario can disappear in a city like Thunder Bay and there’s no reaction from this government,” Hampton said May 9.
Hampton demanded answers when he was told that an inquest was underway concerning the deaths of the young First Nation students who had died over the past ten years.
When I asked you about this issue three days ago, you said, ‘ … an inquest is under way up north with respect to the deaths.’ Minister, the inquest you referred to was to get under way in June 2009. It is now almost June 2011. Two years later, young First Nations students are still disappearing and still dying. How do you explain the two years of inactivity on the part of your government?”
Hampton rightly said that had 7 children in Hamilton or Toronto gone missing from a single school the media would be all over it.
Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School principal Jonathan Kakegamic wants action from the government.
“The seven deaths are too much,” Kakegamic said, noting that even one death is too much. “After the first death of Jethro Anderson (in 2000), something should have been done. Nothing was. That’s wrong. This is Canada. Something is wrong with our government and the country we live in when nothing was done.”
This year the school term has ended. Will there be more measures in place next year? All children in Canada deserve to have the best education available in their own communities. Forcing children to leave their homes in order to better themselves at such a young age is not in their best interest.
Until schools in these remote communities can be built and staffed teens who travel away from home need to have a secure place to live with more adult supervision. Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School's staff is there for these youngsters during the day but once the last bell rings until the first bell of the day these children, Canada's children, are being left out in the cold when it comes to being cared for.
Young Jordan was 15. Ask yourself would you want your 15-year-old child to have to be making it on their own just to get the same education as everyone else? Jordan was our child Canada as were Kyle, Reggie, Jethro, Paul, Curran and Robyn. They no longer have a voice. It's up to us now.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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