Photo by: Charlie Martin
**CONTENT WARNING: This story deals with topics of anti-Indigenous racism and violence.**
Last week, Crave TV released a new series on the northern city of the same name, Thunder Bay. Often associated with its beautiful landscape and outdoor activities like nordic skiing, Thunder Bay shows viewers that under the surface, anti-Indigenous racism runs deep in the city. This limited series is a must-watch for all demographics.
The series is developed by Anishinaabe comedian, podcaster and writer Ryan McMahon – also known for other documentaries like Colonization Road (2016). McMahon’s development of the series comes after his podcast of the same name that started in 2018 – looking at the same issues.Thunder Bay is broken down into four episodes and brings up many themes of anti-Indigenous racism that are relevant to Thunder Bay, including: the murder of Indigenous youth, Indigenous students having to move away from their families to attend school or have life opportunities, the failure of the criminal justice system, colonial histories, police ignorance and brutality, among others.
While all of these themes are brought into the series, the episodes primarily look at how seven Indigenous youth were found dead in Thunder Bay between 2000 and 2011, within the context of more Indigenous youth found deceased between 2011 and now. Theseven, referred to as The Seven Fallen Feathers by author Tanya Talaga, were all students from remote communities, who moved to Thunder Bay for better education and opportunities such as access to better hockey leagues. These seven are Jethro Anderson (15) from Kasabonika Lake First Nation, Curran Strang (18) from Pikangikum First Nation, Paul Panacheese (21) from Mishkeegogamang First Nation, Robyn Harper (18) from Keewaywin First Nation, Reggie Bushie (15) from Poplar Hill First Nation, Kyle Morrisseau (17) from Keewaywin First Nation and Jordan Wabasse (15) from Webequie First Nation.
The first episode of the series centres on the murder of an Indigenous woman, Barbara Kentner. An 18-year-old white resident of Thunder Bay, Brayden Bushby, threw a trailer hitch at Kentner, where she eventually succumbed to her injuries. As such, this episode focuses largely on the criminal justice system that has so often worked against Indigenous peoples.
The second episode began unravelling the initial seven youth who were found dead, looking at various theories about what happened, like that Indigenous peoples were being killed by a serial killer specifically targeting Indigenous youth. Here, McMahon uncovers how Indigenous youth travelling to Thunder Bay are particularly vulnerable, which is compounded by the racist conditions they are entering into.
The third episode turns back to focus on the criminal justice system. McMahon follows the development of the Office of the Independent Police Review Director’s inquiry report on the Thunder Bay police called Broken Trust: Indigenous People and the Thunder Bay Police Service. In the report, it is found that there is systemic racism against Indigenous peoples within the Thunder Bay Police Service which impacted the investigation of various deaths.
Digging even deeper into the findings of the Broken Trust report, Thunder Bay’s fourth and final episode questions what exactly has changed since the report’s release. McMahon sits down with various former and current members of the Thunder Bay Police Service, bringing into focus just how deep the institutional racism runs in the city.
What this series does particularly well is provide a well-rounded understanding to viewers of what is unfolding in Northern Ontario. McMahon brings in many experts, lawyers, police officers, ex-investigators, community members, chiefs, reporters, and, perhaps most importantly, victims to speak about their experiences with anti-Indigenous racism in Thunder Bay. By bringing together such a vast number of perspectives and situating current events within the context of the legacy of colonialism, Thunder Bay paints a comprehensive picture of racism, not only in Northern Ontario but in Canada at-large.
The series is a difficult watch, but necessary. As McMahon says in the second episode, “when I look back here in Thunder Bay, I see indifference and incompetence.” This series serves as a call-to-action: people residing on this land, especially white people, need to take action against the ongoing, deeply-problematic, and deathly effects of settler-colonialism unfolding in Thunder Bay.