First Nations Student Deaths Inquest: Families Look For Answers

Jethro Anderson of Kasabonika Lake First Nation died in 2000 while attending high school in Thunder Bay. He was 15. (CBC)

Jethro Anderson of Kasabonika Lake First Nation died in 2000 while attending high school in Thunder Bay. He was 15. (CBC)

Article source: CBC News, Posted: Sep 29, 2015

The families of some of the First Nations students, whose deaths will be the subject of an inquest starting Oct. 5 in Thunder Bay, Ont., are expressing their hopes and fears about the process.

The mothers of Paul Panacheese, Jordan Wabasse and Jethro Anderson issued statements on Wednesday, through their lawyer.

All of their sons, along with four other teens — Curran Strang, Robyn Harper, Reggie Bushie and Kyle Morriseau — died after leaving home to attend high school in Thunder Bay. The inquest will investigate the circumstances surrounding their deaths and make recommendations for preventing other similar deaths in the future.

“Half of me wants to know what happened to Jethro, and the other half of me wants to leave it alone,” said Anderson’s mother Stella, adding that her “heart shattered into a million pieces” when she heard Jethro’s body was found in 2000. He was 15.

“A lot has happened over the past fifteen years, I have made positive life changes,” she said. “I miss Jethro every day and the thought of learning more about his death is frightening and brings up old wounds that have been slowly healing.”

Long wait

The inquest was first called in 2012 but problems with Ontario’s jury roll system and the volume of evidence delayed its start until this year.

Jordan Wabasse

Jordan Wabasse from Webequie First Nation died while attending school in Thunder Bay. He was 15. (CBC)

Bernice Jacobs, the mother of Jordan Wabasse, said she is glad it is finally moving ahead “so that families do not have to wait or hold off on planning their lives because that’s what it feels like we have been doing.”

The start of the inquest will present new emotional challenges, the mothers said.

“It will be too difficult for some family members to attend.” Maryanne Panacheese said. “I personally have to attend to honour Paul and the other students.

“Paul wanted better for First Nation students,” she said. “He wanted them to be able attend school to access a better system and get better education. Because I know this is how Paul felt, I agreed to participate in this inquest.”

Paul Panacheese

Paul Panacheese, from Mishkeegogamang First Nation died in 2006 while attending school in Thunder Bay. He was 21. (CBC)

‘I just can’t let him go’

Jacobs also hopes the inquest results in improvements to First Nations education. Her two other sons are attending high school at home in Webequie, where she said the course choices are limited and there is no science lab, art courses, technical shops or gymnasium.

She said one of her boys wants to come to Thunder Bay for school, but after Jordan’s death at 15 in 2011, “I just can’t let him go,” she said.

Panacheese has another, more personal hope for the inquest. Her son Paul died in 2006. He was 21. Maryanne said she still does not know the cause of death.

Some reports have said he died of an overdose but “there is uncertainty in relation to Paul’s death and whether heart complications had a role in his death,” according to a statement from her lawyer.

“It has been almost nine years and we are still waiting for some answers,” Panacheese said. “It is our hope that the inquest will help us to understand more.”