WINNIPEG – A Manitoba advocate for people who suffered from illnesses linked to vermiculite insulation has died of a cancer closely associated with asbestos, her daughter says.
Raven ThunderSky grew up in a home on Poplar River First Nation with asbestos-laced insulation and lost several family members to related illnesses.
Her daughter, Raven-Dominique Gobeil, says ThunderSky died on Christmas Eve of mesothelioma at the age of 50.
In 2008, ThunderSky said she wrote then-prime minister Stephen Harper asking for a public inquiry into Zonolite, the insulation that was frequently made from Montana-mined vermiculate and found to contain naturally occurring asbestos.
ThunderSky was also critical when a settlement was offered in a class-action lawsuit against the American company that made Zonolite, saying the amount wouldn’t begin to cover the costs of removing the insulation from homes.
Zonolite was popular in Canada from the 1950s until the 1980s, and homeowners were eligible for federal grants to install the insulation from the late 1970s until the early 1980s.
“In the past eight weeks it kind of got the best of her, and in the past two weeks she was just bedridden,” Gobeil said of her mother’s illness, noting she chose to spend her final moments at home.
“Hospitals are where her sisters and parents died and she decided she didn’t want that for herself,” Gobeil said in an interview Sunday.
Zonolite insulation was used in housing on military bases and on First Nations reserves.
Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that is often linked with exposure to asbestos. The World Health Organization maintains all types of asbestos can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis.
ThunderSky was also active in campaigning for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.
Gobeil said her mother was too ill to fully comprehend the announcement earlier this month by the federal Liberal government that an inquiry will be held. But she said she was able to understand, and was happy, when a second-degree murder charge was announced in the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, whose body was found wrapped in a bag in Winnipeg’s Red River in 2014.
“Even if her activism brought closure to one family, that’s one family that can rest easy and doesn’t have to wonder forever,” Gobeil said.