A few months ago I subscribed and began to listen to the newest podcast created by Canadaland, a Canadian-based media company. The podcast had been in development for at least two years as far as I can tell. The name is simple and instructive. Canadaland's audio documentary seeks to explore the culture, criminality, social tensions, politics, and racism in Thunder Bay.
The show is led by Ryan McMahon, an Anishinaabe comedian, writer, and activist. Given the sensitive material he takes a deft and careful hand at exploring the lives of indigenous Canadians living in Thunder Bay or their experiences with Thunder Bay. He spent months building relationships with the subjects and gaining background information to share the story.
It's possible to summarize Thunder Bay as a true crime podcast, but I think that quite misses the mark. True crime, generally, focuses on a single case or a single criminal. Thunder Bay is about systemic failures and crises. While time is spent to look at the corruption and cronyism that has pervaded local politics it is not simply about that. I feel the time spent looking at a mayor charged with extortion, or a police chief facing obstruction of justice is to demonstrate that radical failure is taking place in the community and it is going largely unchallenged.
The racism faced by indigenous people in Thunder Bay is not hidden or obscured. It is often visible right on the surface for all to see in public postings, statements, public leaders, and widely-held opinions. Many First Nations people have to come to Thunder Bay for schooling. Many of the smaller communities do not have high schools so the children are brought to Thunder Bay for their education. These generally leaves them poorly supervised, lonely, isolated, and in a high-risk area. There is a chilling and recurring fear stated by many that they will be "thrown in the river." Indigenous people in Thunder Bay seem to drown in icy rivers with startling regularity, and some indications exist that there are killers who stalk native people for just this purpose.
The tone of Thunder Bay is not what I would call emotional, but it is definitely sensitive. McMahon in his narration and interviews clearly is speaking in a revelatory manner, and also expresses deep regret and sympathy for victims. Another powerful element is simple disbelief, that there is a city in Canada that can flagrantly flaunt was many assume to be our norms and get away with it.
There is a question that McMahon and Thunder Bay leaves the audience with, one that is deeply chilling - what if Thunder Bay is working exactly as it is intended? Pointing to the litany of stories Canadaland has collected and calling them "isolated incidents" begs incredulity. If you don't believe me, give it a listen for yourself, but be prepared to see a darker side of our country that some are intimately familiar with and others have had the privilege to be shielded from.
To check out Thunder Bay you can use this link, or subscribe using your favourite podcast app.