If things had gone differently this summer, you might be reading an article by Marlan Chookomolin right now. The twenty-five-year-old First Nations man from Thunder Bay, Ontario was due to begin his studies in communications at the local Confederation College in September. Ron Chookomolin, Marlan’s father, describes his son’s ambitions: “he will go into journalism,” he says, still using the simple future tense before he corrects himself. “He was excited. Marlan believed he was the only person who could communicate with Indigenous people under the bridges and in the bushes, because he knew how to talk to them.”
Instead, on June 25, Marlan Chookomolin was discovered badly beaten on a trail in the north end of Thunder Bay. According to Ron, there was bruising around his son’s neck and evidence of blunt force trauma to the back of his head. His organs failing, Marlan was put on life support by the hospital to allow his mother to fly in to see him. Desperate for his son not to be forgotten, Ron invited the media into the room. They took a photo of Ron beside the deathbed, with Marlan connected to machines, unrecognizable. Marlan died the next day, surrounded by family. The scene brings to mind a photo from 1955 in which the parents of Emmett Till—a fourteen-year-old black boy lynched after a white woman in Mississippi said he whistled at her—pose over his mutilated body. The photo shook America and made it impossible to deny the humanity of the lynching victims. “Let people see what I’ve seen,” explained Mamie Till Mobley, referring to her decision to have an open-casket funeral for her son.