THUNDER BAY, ON: Members of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Executive Council joined with leaders from North Caribou Lake First Nation and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) to express frustration with police investigations into the death of Tammy Keeash and the disappearance of Josiah Begg at a press conference in Thunder Bay today.
“All available resources should have been deployed on a 24/7 basis since the day Josiah disappeared and the city should be turned upside down until he is found. Police have done no better investigating Tammy’s death, accepting drowning as the cause but failing to determine how she ended up in the water,” said Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. “Our communities do not have confidence in the police to conduct thorough investigations. Our leaders are now forced to pool their resources to coordinate their own searches and – potentially – fund their own private investigations. If the police won’t act, we will.”
Josiah Begg, a 14-year-old from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, was last seen on May 6, 2017, around 10 p.m. near the Vale Community Centre. He was in Thunder Bay with his father for a medical appointment.
“It is a stressful time for the family and our community as we await word of our missing youth, Josiah Begg. To all volunteers, police, First Nation communities, organizations and NAN, the people of KI extend gratitude for their time and effort in this search. If broader health services were available in remote communities, persons going missing while on medical appointments would be greatly minimized. It is time to transform the delivery of services to meet the needs of remote First Nations and improve the well-being of our people,” said Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Chief James Cutfeet.
The body of Tammy Keeash, a 17-year-old from North Caribou Lake First Nation (Weagamow), was discovered in the Neebing McIntyre floodway in Thunder Bay on May 7, 2017. She was in care in a group home in Thunder Bay.
“Our community is shocked by this tragedy and we question the coroner’s finding as drowning as the cause of Tammy’s death. Tammy lived in community surrounded by water. As a member of the Junior Canadian Rangers she was trained to survive in harsh conditions. We are skeptical about how she died and where her body was found. We have many questions and look to the police and appropriate agencies for answers,” said North Caribou Lake First Nation Chief Dinah Kanate.
On May 12 police reported that a post-mortem examination indicates that Tammy’s death is consistent with drowning and that her death remains a “Coroner’s investigation”.
NAN has strongly encouraged the Thunder Bay Police Service to thoroughly investigate all circumstances around Tammy’s tragic loss, and will not simply accept the establishment of cause of death as a conclusion to this case. Police have not determined how Tammy came to be in the water, and there are many questions to be answered.
The quality of missing person investigations by the Thunder Bay Police Service was questioned during the inquest into the deaths of seven NAN youth since 2000 while living in Thunder Bay.
In November 2016, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) announced a systemic review of the Thunder Bay Police Service’s practices for policing Indigenous Peoples. Specifically, policies, practices and attitudes regarding missing person and death investigations.
In the meantime, NAN has established a Command Centre at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School to lead the search for Josiah.
“We are heartbroken over Tammy’s tragic loss and our hearts and prayers are with her family and the Weagamow community, who laid her body to rest yesterday,” said Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum. “We appreciate the efforts of everyone searching for Josiah and we will not give up hope for his safe return. His family and community desperately want him back, and we will do everything possible to find him.”