Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, Fort William Chief Peter Collins and Thunder Bay city councillors Joe Virdiramo and Iain Angus signed A Statement of Commitment to First Nation Youth and Families on Aug. 1.
“We met here in Fort William First Nation about three weeks ago … to discuss the results of the (Emergency Chiefs Meeting on Education) that our chiefs had at DFC (Dennis Franklin Cromarty First Nations High School) at the beginning of July to look for ways to improve student safety in Thunder Bay,” Fiddler says. “We agreed that this was the way to go and our staff from our offices have been working on this since that time. I think it is a significant step forward towards addressing the concerns that have been expressed by our students and families for the last few months.”
Fiddler says the statement sends a signal to not just Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) community members but to everyone that the leaders are committed to working together on the student safety issue.
“There are some short-terms things that we can definitely work on,” Fiddler says, noting that one of the concerns expressed by the students was transportation around the city. “(One of the things) we will be working towards addressing is a bus service for them to be able to get around the city in a more safe way.”
Fiddler says it was important to acknowledge what was happening in the City of Thunder Bay.
“To me it was very important that we all do that, to acknowledge that there is racism here in the city, which also includes systemic racism,” Fiddler says. “That is something that we’ve heard from our communities over and over again, what they experience when they come to Thunder Bay. So I think that is a significant first step for the city to acknowledge before we can even talk about solutions.”
The leaders signed the statement in the Fort William First Nation Council Chambers after a smudging ceremony.
“The significance of this document is the opportunity to work together and change the landscape of Thunder Bay with our partners from the north and the City of Thunder Bay,” Collins says. “We have to work together to improve safety and awareness in our communities. Hopefully it helps and is a positive step in the right direction.”
Collins says the statement focuses on working together to bring safety and awareness to young people who are moving to Thunder Bay from NAN, Robinson Superior and Treaty #3 communities for education opportunities.
“It will be a symbol of peace, it will be a symbol of working together, it will be a symbol of change and opportunity,” Collins says. “Opportunity comes with growth, and we all have to grow together.”
Collins says the next step is changing racism in Thunder Bay.
“There is a lot of work we have to do together on that,” Collins says. “There is a lot of work that has been done in partnership with the city to date; there is still more work that needs to take place. It’s a challenging trend to change, but we have to work together to change that.”
Virdiramo says the statement is about working cooperatively together with Fiddler and Collins to try to resolve racism and student safety issues in Thunder Bay.
“We are trying to put things in place to create more safety for students coming to the City of Thunder Bay,” Virdiramo says, noting that Thunder Bay City Council recently approved the First Nation Secondary School Transit Pass pilot program for the 2017-2018 school year, which is a subsidized pass to help students from the north overcome barriers getting to and from school, city programs and recreational opportunities (Seven Youth Inquest Recommendations 78, 102). “We need to work together cooperatively and recognize that we need to do something. This is a great step forward, and I am very happy that this happened here on Fort William First Nation territory.”
Angus says there are a lot of people who are concerned about the state of Indigenous education in Thunder Bay.
“So we needed to come together to find a way in which we could work together, not so much to figure out what went wrong in the past but to make sure that we can keep those kids safe when they come to Thunder Bay,” Angus says. “We’ve got a month before the next crop of students arrive, and NAN has a school safety committee in the works and we are prepared to work with them to do what we can to assist them in providing the necessary safety for the
students throughout the next year.”
The statement includes commitments to create a safe and welcoming community for all; develop an anti-racism plan; develop and implement a student safety plan; partner for the provision of space and transportation for gatherings of First Nation students, families and Elders; advocate for funding to support the interests of youth and their families; and publicly declare the statement of commitment to community members and the federal and provincial governments.