Skye Kakekagumick was testifying at the inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students who died while attending school in Thunder Bay.
She was with one of the students, Robyn Harper, on the night she died in 2007, but Kakekagumick was also questioned by lawyers at the inquest about her general experiences as a student in the city.
Kakekagumick testified that within days of arriving in Thunder Bay when she was 15, she was drinking with friends when police arrived and a male officer began “body searching” the female students.
“I said, ‘shouldn’t a lady cop be searching me?’” Kakekagumick told the inquest. “I guess he was just frustrated with me…he grabbed my hair and he slammed my head [into the police car].
Robyn Harper, from Keewaywin First Nation, was 18 years old when she died in Thunder Bay while attending high school there in 2007. (CBC)
"There was a dent in the car…my head was hurting,” she testified.
A group of girls were taken to the police station and put in holding cells where it was “scary and we were just crying,” she testified.
“The cops were in there just laughing at us,” Kakekagumick told the inquest. “They would hold up a paper… and draw cartoons of a native and say savage on there…and draw sad faces that said 'boo hoo.’”
A spokesperson for Thunder Bay police told CBC News that police would not comment on testimony that is before “an active inquest.”
Kakekagumick also answered lawyers’ questions about other incidents of racism she said she experienced in the city.
She testified that several times, food was thrown at her from passing vehicles and people made a war-whooping noise and yelled things such as “stupid savage, go back home.”
“It’s very scary,” Kakekagumick told the inquest. “To them, we are just savages, they think it’s funny. Like some people when they pick on a dog, or torture it, they think it’s funny. They treat us like that.” […]
A “swirling storm” of racism and discrimination is killing indigenous people in Thunder Bay, Ont., says Patty Hajdu, an MP for the northwestern Ontario city and minister for the status of women.
Hajdu said her experience running a homeless shelter in Thunder Bay, before becoming a Liberal cabinet minister last year, showed her the deadly consequences of racism.
Speaking outside the inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students in the city, Hajdu said racism is a sad reality of life, and death, for indigenous people in the city.
“There’s a swirling storm of racism and discrimination against people who use substances and people who are in poverty, and it all comes together in a perfect storm where people are actually dying, because they can’t access the services they need,” she said.
Several friends and classmates of the students who died have testified at the inquest about experiences of racism in Thunder Bay after they moved from their remote First Nations to attend high school in the city.
An inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students in Thunder Bay, Ont., is providing a preview of concerns that could be raised at a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, says a lawyer for the Nishnawbe Aski Nation.
The inquest, one of the largest in Ontario’s history, started on Oct. 5 and is scheduled to run to March 2016.
It’s looking at the deaths of students who died between 2000 and 2011 while attending high school in Thunder Bay. Few remote First Nations in northern Ontario have schools that go beyond Grade 10.
“Sadly there’s a theme — less than worthy victims,” lawyer Julian Falconer said after cross-examining an officer with the Thunder Bay police at the inquest.
“It’s a theme that ties into not just this case but the entire picture around missing and murdered indigenous women and girls: less than worthy victims, I can sadly say this is part of that bigger picture,” he said.
The retired police officer testified at the inquest that Thunder Bay police did not launch a criminal investigation into the death of Jethro Anderson until six days after he was reported missing in October 2000.
The body of the 15-year-old was pulled from the Kaministiquia River in Thunder Bay on Nov. 11, 2000, nearly two weeks after he disappeared.
Anderson, from Kasabonika Lake First Nation, was staying with his aunt, Dora Morris, while he attended the First Nations high school in Thunder Bay.
Morris told the inquest that she called Thunder Bay police about her nephew’s disappearance within hours of him missing curfew, but her concerns were not taken seriously.
“I called every day just to ask if they had any leads,” Morris told CBC News in an interview after she testified. “And every time I called, the answer was always, ‘He’s just out there partying like any native kid,’ those kind of comments.”
The comments, along with a police news release saying no foul play was suspected in Anderson’s death sent out prior to a post-mortem, show police had “tunnel vision” when it came to the investigation, Falconer said at the inquest.
“The police have a tendency to default to a drowning and liquor scenario, literally, almost automatically,” Falconer said of the investigations of five students whose bodies were pulled from local rivers, as well as other similar recent deaths of First Nations people.
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