Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) is calling for accountability by the Government of Ontario following the loss of four NAN youth in care in the past six months. Chiefs-in-Assembly endorsed a resolution calling for an inquest into these deaths, including Tammy Keeash, whose body was discovered in the Neebing McIntyre floodway in Thunder Bay on Monday.
“We are heartbroken with the loss of another of our youth in the child welfare system and offer our heartfelt condolences to Tammy’s family and the Weagamow community,” said Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum. “We are shocked by the deaths of three youth in recent weeks. We are disappointed the Coroner’s Office has not yet responded to our call for inquest, and we repeat that call today. How many children do we have to lose before action is taken?”
First Nation leaders and families who have lost youth in care shared heart-wrenching stories with the Hon. Michael Coteau, Minister of Children and Youth Services, who attended a NAN Chiefs assembly in Timmins today.
Shelia Scott expressed the shock of learning of the death of her daughter Courtney in a fire while in care last month. Nicole Sutherland shared her grief over the loss of her 10-year-old son Tyrese, who died in 2014 after years in care.
“The system is stacked against First Nations when our children are in care. Families and communities face tremendous amounts of red tape inquiring about the welfare of our youth in care, and even for the return of the bodies for burial in their home communities,” said Fort Albany Chief Andrew Solomon. “We have a better way of caring for our children based on our culture and traditions. We are the ones who should be caring for our children, close to their homes and families.”
NAN has called for an inquest into the deaths of youth in care after the loss of two NAN youth in group homes near Ottawa last month. Courtney Scott, 16, from Fort Albany First Nation, died in a house fire on April 21. Amy Owen, 13, from Poplar Hill First Nation, who, according police, took her own life on April 17.
The body of Tammy Keeash, a 17-year-old from North Caribou Lake First Nation (Weagamow), was discovered on May 7. She was in care in a group home in Thunder Bay. Her death is being investigated as a homicide. Kanina Sue Turtle, 15, of Poplar Hill First Nation, died in 2016 while in a group home in Sioux Lookout.
“Inquests are not mandatory under the Coroners Act for the deaths of youth in care, but we have asked the Office of the Chief Coroner to exercise discretion and call an inquest into these tragic losses,” said Achneepineskum. “In the meantime, we are supporting the family of Tammy Keeash and await the outcome of the police investigation into her death.”
NAN has also called for the Government of Ontario to make legislative change so inquests are mandatory for all youth who die in group home settings.