KENORA – An April 17 vigil has been announced for Azraya Ackabee-Kokopenace, a 12-year old-girl from Grassy Narrows First Nation who disappeared from police custody at a Kenora hospital last year and was found dead two days later.
Azraya had been apprehended from her home in Grassy Narrows and was living in the care of Child Protection Services at the time of her disappearance.
Despite a requirement for a mandatory coroner’s inquest in any case involving an in-custody death, Azraya’s parents and her community have received no information from any government agency about when, or if there will be an inquest into their daughter’s death, despite repeated public calls from elected and grassroots leaders.
The wait continues to compound damage in the community.
“Her community of Grassy Narrows First Nation has not only shared in the ravages of the legacy of residential schools as articulated in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission but has also faced incredible hardship from mercury poisoning of its water and lands,” says Provincial Youth Advocate Irwin Elman. “The death of Azraya is yet another blow,” says Elman in a letter addressed to Chief Coroner, Dr. Michael Stewart two months ago, on January 19.
“Ontario has made a commitment to reconciliation with First Nations people in the province,” the Youth Advocate’s letter stresses.
“Considering the requests for an Inquest from Azraya’s family, Grand Council Treaty 3, the Chief and Council of Grassy Narrows First Nation, and the Grassy Narrows Youth Organization, I ask [the Chief Coroner] to call an Inquest into the death of Azraya Ackabee Kokopenace and that the family and community be notified of this decision as quickly as possible,” says Elman.
There has been no response from the coroner or any of the provincial ministers previously contacted about Azraya’s case.
However, Azraya’s death is not just an issue for the provincial government, says MP Charlie Angus.
“The senseless death of young Azraya Ackabee-Kopenance should have been a wake-up call to Canada,” says Angus in light of this week’s upcoming Canadian Human Rights Tribunal hearing into federal discrimination against Indigenous Youth in Canada’s Child Welfare system.
Angus, MP for Timmins—James Bay, who has championed Azraya’s case in parliament, says that the neglect faced by Azraya is an important example of how Canada is failing Indigenous youth.
“The system failed her. Our nation failed her,” says the federal NDP leadership candidate. “And yet, a year later no lessons have been learned by the federal government.”
“Young people continue to fall through the cracks,” says Angus.
“We have lost too many beautiful young people like Azraya,” says Angus. “It is time to end the systemic underfunding that has left so many Indigenous youth at risk.”
“It is time to honour Azraya by making sure that every child gets the opportunity for hope, health and a future of opportunity,” Angus concludes.
Details for the April 17 vigil have yet to be announced, but a Facebook page hosted by the Grassy Narrows Youth Organization is active.