Thunder Bay

'We want them to connect:' First Nations student orientation aims to address youth inquest

A First Nations education facility in Thunder Bay has welcomed 16 new students from remote northern communities to a new city orientation program.

Students will take part in various activities and tours to familiarize themselves with Thunder Bay

Adam van der Zwan ยท CBC News ยท Posted: May 08, 2019 9:30 AM ET | Last Updated: 5 hours ago
Students from northern First Nations gather at the Matawa Education Centre in Thunder Bay to begin a five-day city orientation. (Adam van der Zwan/CBC)

A First Nations education facility in Thunder Bay has welcomed 16 new students from remote northern communities to a new city orientation program.

The group of teenagers gathered in a large room at the Matawa Education Centre Monday to begin the week-long event, which is in response to the inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations youth who died while attending high school in Thunder Bay.

Brad Battiston, the principal at the centre, said that, through fun activities such as bowling, swimming and city tours, the initiative intends to "give as much information as possible to students and parents," about the city and what kind of supports are available to them.

Many of the students may return to Thunder Bay for school in September.

Every year, youth from northern First Nations leave their homes and families for months to attend school thousands of kilometres away. Many of them have never set foot in a large city. Matawa hosts orientation session for new students. Grade 8 students get familiar with Thunder Bay and their new school at an orientation held by the Matawa Education Centre. Principal Brad Battiston hopes it will help students become more comfortable with moving south. Further deaths could be prevented. Battiston said that further deaths may be prevented by helping the students familiarize themselves with their new surroundings before moving south. "The recommendation is to try and paint as clear a picture as possible of what life would be like coming to high school here," he explained. It's important for them to "see the size of it, [...] to walk those hallways and to visualize," themselves living in Thunder Bay in a few months time. During the week, students will have the chance to tour city institutions such as the library, city hall and a couple of the high schools. They'll also partake in archery lessons with the Thunder Bay Police Service, and will eat a lunch and dinner sponsored by the city. Audio Year-2 report into 7 Indigenous youth inquest recommendations shows progress, report finds Battiston said the hope is that students will "connect in some way" with what school they'd like to go to, and with any other aspect of Thunder Bay, be it sports or cultural programs. It's also important that students be "aware of the allenges and possible negative experiences that can happen," in Thunder Bay, he added. Battiston said many of the students who'd arrived seemed nervous at the prospect of being in a school with up to 1,000  other students, "but there seems to be a lot of eagerness; there's a lot of curiosity." He said he hasn't yet heard if the program will receive the funding to continue next year, but is hoping to "hear about that shortly. "It does require a lot of planning [and] significant funding to fly the students in from the communities, to stay in the hotel," he said. "But we'd love for it to continue." Matawa Learning Centre says more eyes on city watercourses have saved lives