Child Welfare

Advocate demands Ontario act after fourth Indigenous child dies while in state care

A fourth Indigenous child has died while under the care of the province of Ontario.

Tammy Keeash, 17, was living in a Thunder Bay group home, 500 kilometres away from her community North Caribou First Nation, when she missed her curfew Saturday night. Her body was discovered in the Neebing McIntyre Floodway the following evening.

“She obviously did not find what she needed, and she is not alone.”

“The latest reports of the death of a child who was living in group home care in Ontario is beyond concerning, and frightening,” said Irwin Elman, Ontario’s advocate for children and youth, said in a statement.

“Tammy was living in the care of the Province because our government decided, on behalf of all of us, that she needed protection and support.”

“She obviously did not find what she needed, and she is not alone,” he added, noting that the recent string of deaths has made it clear “our government has not acted with any sense of urgency.”

Tammy is the fourth Indigenous child in the past six months, that we know of, who has died while in provincial care hundreds of kilometres away from their home communities.

On April 21, 16-year-old Courtney Scott, died in a fire that broke out in the Orleans group home she was staying at. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Thirteen-year-old Amy Owen took her own life on April 17 while in an Ottawa group home, her family is still waiting for the details surrounding her death. Amy and Courtney were both from Poplar Hill First Nation.

In a Sioux Lookout group home, 15-year-old Kanina Sue Turtle died, and her family still has no definitive answers as to what happened, other than a suspected suicide.

The four girls were from northern reserves that fall under Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), a political organization representing 49 First Nations in the Treaty 9 and Treaty 5 areas of Northern Ontario. Last year, it called on the federal government to establish a special emergency task force to address the growing suicide epidemic across its region.

Following the first three cases, Elman called on the provincial government to make four key changes.

And while NAN maintains jurisdiction over the health and well being of the children when they are put into care, their communities are left in the dark as to their individual statuses.

It was while he was on his way to Timmins, that NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler heard about the discovery of the teen girl’s body this past weekend.  Fiddlar told the Toronto Star that when NAN made an inquiry about any missing person’s reports in Thunder Bay, that none had been filed over the weekend.

“We were obviously concerned another deceased body was found and we didn’t know who it was,” Fiddler said.

Thunder Bay police announced Sunday evening that the body of a deceased female had been found in the Neebing McIntyre Floodway, she was identified as Keeash the following morning.

Fiddler told the Toronto Star, “We know she was at some sort of a group home in Thunder Bay, with conditions . . . . Apparently she missed the curfew on Saturday evening so the staff member called the police.”

The deaths have devastated family, some of whom still don’t know the full details of what happened. Following the first three cases, Elman called on the provincial government to make four key changes:

  • Identify children and homes at risk and talk to the children there in order to assess the supports they need at home. 
  • Create a roster of clinicians (such as mental health professionals) and trained child and youth workers who can be quickly deployed to homes in crisis to support young people
  • Convene a panel of practitioners and educators, including those with knowledge of
    culturally anchored services and interventions with Indigenous children to guide an emergency response
  • Determine the number and situations of First Nations children living in group homes in
    southern Ontario and takes steps to ensure their needs are being met.

He reiterated his call in his statement on Wednesday.

“It is time for the Premier of Ontario to demonstrate with immediate action our collective concerns as Ontarians to ensure that all children in need of protection — no matter who they are or where they live — will receive the care, support, and assurances of safety under Ontario’s care.”

Last year, following NAN’s call to action, the northern fly-in reserve of Wapekekea asked the federal government for $376,706 to address the mental health crisis sweeping the region, which Health Canada did not grant. In January, after two 12-year-olds took their own lives, an anonymous donor sent the community the money.

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