Parents and community members expressed anger last week after a visit from the federal minister of indigenous services produced nothing more than a speech regarding the community’s almost 40-year struggle getting funding for a language immersion school.
Last Wednesday’s visit from ISC Minister Marc Miller was heralded with much anticipation – along with protest signs – only to result in a blunt announcement that he could not promise any funding for a new Kawenni:io/Gaweni:yo Language Immersion School.
Parents and community members held signs likening the condition of the school and lack of funding to continued punishment reminiscent of the residential school era, when Indigenous children were forced to give up their languages and learn English at the church-run boarding schools.
Students and staff have been learning out of makeshift buildings around the reserve since the school’s inception in the 1980s.
Miller said he wants to see the school built but couldn’t promise anything.
“We want to see this done,” he told about 150 people gathered in the parking lot at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena last week where students currently learn out of makeshift classrooms on the second floor of the building. “We’re here to see it get done and that’s the work I need to go back to my government and get done.”
Miller said supporting languages and culture around Canada is a “huge priority to this government” but the money just isn’t there.
“That’s what we need to go back and get done. This is a project you fought long for and I’m only starting to fight for. I’m very much aware of an application that is in to fund the building.
My government should be focused on getting you the funding you need to build a new school.”
He told the group, “I can’t promise anything today. I think the worst thing that can happen is make false promises and not be able to fulfill on them. It’s something I do want to see happen and does have the attention of my government. I’m wiling to fight for it. If I could cut a cheque today I’d probably be a much more dangerous person than I am already.”
Everyone is looking for money from the same pot, though, as reserves across the country deal with vast underfunding in every area of life.
“There’s a process that is competitive in nature that is wildly oversubscribed that your school is part of,” said Miller. “I know those are tough words to hear. It’s something I do want to see happen whether it’s through this process or another and I wear the responsibility of that failure should it not come to fruition. I’m not here to present excuses. I do hope to come back here in the future so we can have a brighter day. I do recognize language is life. It’s something I do take to heart.”
Said he will work with Kawenni:io/Gaweni:yo principal Jeremy Green and the team at the school to secure funding for a new build.
Land for a new building has already been designated beside Six Nations Polytechnic on Fourth Line Road, with bids currently being accepted for site servicing work on the property.
ISC has already approved the design build.
They just need the funding now – to the tune of $30 million.
Because of Covid, the cost per square foot has gone up substantially from its previous estimates of $18 million, said school board Chair Ruby Jacobs.
“We feel that the education of the education of these children is the responsibility of the federal government,” she said. “These children have been going to school in these circumstances since 1986. The teachers and the funding for the programming is minimal, too.”
ISC funds annual operations for the school at $4 million but that number would have to increase after a new school is built because of the size of the building and the increased number of staff and students.
There will be a substantial increase in families applying to attend the school, she said.
“They want this. It’s a small area we have now.”
About 120 students attend KG now. The new school could house 300 or more students.
In light of the Canadian federal government not announcing funding for KGPS school construction, Jacobs had words of determination, “This will not deter us from continuing our critically important work of maintaining and revitalizing Onkwehon:we languages, culture, knowledge and way of life. Nothing changes for us today. We will keep doing what we have been doing. Bids went out recently for tender for Phase I Site Servicing Construction of the Kawenní:io-Gawęni:yo school. We are proceeding as planned.”
Should the Federal Government fund the school, the KGPS Board of Directors will review any offers of funding prior to accepting them to ensure that any requirements for receiving funding to construct a school are in line with the philosophy, vision, mission and goals of the Kawenni:io-Gawęni:yo Private School.
Green reiterated the need for support, “We encourage individuals, families, teams, companies, entrepreneurs, associations, corporations, philanthropists and local, regional, national and international governments and bodies to donate to our building fund. We thank those who have already donated. We also thank those who have helped promote and increase awareness of our situation – that we have no school. Our children matter. It’s time these children had a school.”
To get involved or to donate please email KGPS Principal Jeremy Green at firstname.lastname@example.org, KGPS Board of Directors Secretary at email@example.com or by calling the school at (905)768-7203 or by texting (519)770-7233. Donations can be sent via cheque to the address on the top of page one, through e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org.