After being turned down by Indigenous Services Canada for new school funding for the fifth time, Kawenni:io/Gaweni:yo language immersion school is asking band council to back a $25 bank loan for the school’s construction.
“As you know, Kawenni:io has been fighting for awhile to get an immersion school,” said school board Chair Ruby Jacobs at Six Nations Elected Council on Monday.
She told council’s general finance meeting that they’ve been turned down by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) five times now to get funding for a new school.
“Those children go to school every day in an arena,” said Jacobs, adding, “it’s not an an ideal situation for kids to go to school in and they face many hardships there. Kawenni:io is not going to give up its fight to try and do something about it.”
Land has been secured and site servicing is finished.
The project is shovel-ready, said Jacobs.
“We just can’t seem to reach ears in Ottawa. Why should we be begging them for the dollars to build this school?”
That’s why they’re exploring private funding options now.
Jacobs has been in touch with CIBC bankers and asked council to support a $25 million loan with council as the guarantor.
“The (school) board feels really badly being refused that many times,” said Jacobs. “We need a strong council to stand up here and say there shouldn’t be any denial of a school to these kids and their families.”
The bank says a conservative repayment amount would be about $3,700 a month at close to eight per cent interest but could go as low as four per cent interest.
Coun. Dayle Bomberry said council would need to do further research before committing to backing the loan.
“I know it’s not what you want to hear, Ruby, but we still have to take due diligence on our own internal operations (before any decision is made),” he said.
But many councillors spoke up to say they support the school getting built and will review the decision with its finance committee.
“We’ve been trying to get the money for them and it seems we’re getting closer to that,” said Coun. Audrey Powless-Bomberry. “I think anything we can do to help them would be appreciated because our language is so important to us and our culture and our young students are taking it upon themselves to make sure that happens. My hat off to them.”
The school has received about $2 million in community donations and fundraisers so far.
Council doesn’t want to go through a bank necessarily, said Coun. Hazel Johnson, but if they do, she wants ISC to be shamed.
“We have to shame that doggone ISC because they know how to talk their way out of anything.”
Jacobs said the school is functioning over capacity and they have a waiting list, as do other schools on the reserve, so a new school needs to be built anyway.
IL Thomas Elementary is at least one other school over capacity, and has 100 more kids than they should have, she said.
“We need a new school here anyway,” said Jacobs. “Let’s fight for us. We’re done fooling around. It’s been a long haul.”
The school has been teaching students in either Mohawk or Cayuga since its inception over 30 years ago and has produced fluent language speakers as a result.
They’re out in the community speaking the language right now, said Jacobs.
“I got two granddaughters that can talk (the language) and sing and everything else,” said Jacobs. “Every kid deserves that. We need to act fast. We’ve been waiting 30-odd years.”