Thunder Bay rally participants have had 'enough' of racism toward Indigenous people

About 100 people gathered in front of Thunder Bay city hall Tuesday to publicly call for a safer community for, and more tolerant city toward, Indigenous people.

Organizers of the rally say they also want to know what municipal, provincial and federal governments will do to combat racism locally and across the country.

"It's time for change, I want to know what individuals are going to do to combat racism," Scott Hobbs, one of the organizers, told CBC News. "I want to ask all three levels of government what they're going to do to fight racism."

"It's time."

Tuesday's rally came in the wake of several high-profile incidents in the city, including the public release of two highly-critical independent reports about systemic racism in the Thunder Bay police and the board of civilians tasked with overseeing the force, the death of 17-year-old Braiden Jacob from Webequie First Nation and a widely-shared video of a Thunder Bay police officer striking another 17-year-old — a girl from Nibinamik — who was on a stretcher.

The title of Tuesday's rally was "Enough."  An appropriate term, according to several people in attendance.

"The way I interpret it is, you're sick and tired of being treated [poorly] and disrespected and putting up with people walking all over you," said Stephanie Quisess.

"I can't put up with this anymore ... it's damaging my spirit way too much to the point where I don't even know if I can hang on anymore and it's almost like you have enough of that spirit left to fight for what you believe in and for your people as well."

Stephanie Quisess attended Tuesday's rally at Thunder Bay city hall. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

 

Quisess said she wants Indigenous people to be able to "walk the streets safely ... so that our youth can be safe and so they can come here and you know they can be protected."

Tuesday's event featured several speeches by organizers and others in the crowd, including the local chapter of the Bear Clan, as well as a hand drumming group and opening remarks and prayer by Elder Sam Achneepineskum.

Achneepineskum told CBC News that speaking openly about racism and intolerance is key.

"It's something that we need to talk about ... it's talked about quietly but not in public," he said. "I think it's something that, we know that it does exist, even though a lot of organizations ... don't admit that it does."

"Somebody who deals with it every day knows that it's there."

He added that the more the city talks about the issue and the more that it's openly acknowledged, the more likely things will improve, but Achneepineskum added that it "will not happen overnight."

Another one of the event's organizers, Julie Harmer, told the crowd that she wants to see momentum build.

"I want to see more things like this, I don't want to walk away from this and go 'ah, that was a great event,' and not have another one until we have another tragedy and we all get reminded again."

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