A school Kawenni:io can call their own
OHSWEKEN – Security and stability are two principles that many elementary students on and off-reserve can take for granted.
Access to a library, computer lab or even a cafeteria are nuances that might not even register as luxuries to many young students — but may present themselves as necessities or things that every school has.
But what if in the name of preserving culture, language, and history, there were students that were going without? What if being told that the only two indigenous languages to survive in the future do not include a Haudenosaunee language, and they want to change this?
This is the case for the Mohawk and Cayuga immersion students and faculty at the Kawenni:io/Gaweniyo Private School — a school that has been in operation for 30 years and brings forth future carriers of Haudenosaunee beliefs and philosophies from S.K., to Grade 12.
Principal Linda Staats explained that she knows many people don’t understand just how long the school has been around, or the hardships that were faced by students and faculty.
“People don’t realize that this school has been functioning since 1986, and we were so small and unassuming that now that we’re in the arena and the school has become quite populated, I think that the community needs to understand that this school has struggled to survive on next to nothing. Teachers began teaching in this school with no salaries, whatsoever the first year that they taught. And that’s the level of commitment that they had.”
The school is currently housed within the right half of the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena, which was greatly appreciated by all that found home within it, but is recognized as not being conducive to the educational standards of a learning environment. This has prompted efforts to establish a proper school to be built to house the students and staff of Kawenni:io/Gweniyo.
Staats explained that the board working towards achieving a new school is comprised of family members, alumni and faculty members that have created a plan to reach the main goal.
“The board has put together a strategic fundraising plan,” said Staats. “They’re putting promotional material together and they’re putting together the whole proposal for the $12 million for the building. Our plan is to go after the $12 million so we can get the building built.”
Last Saturday, Staats explained that the board sent their request to the Economic Development Trust for $1.2 million to get the infrastructure behind the Six Nations Polytechnic, including the driveway, hydro, water and sewer to be shovel ready. The board hopes to also raise $1 million in funds to use as a down-payment for a loan from the bank, but they are also in negotiations with the federal government to build the school.
“Parents bring their children here because they are committed to trying to retain our culture and our language, our traditions, our ceremonies,” she said. “All kinds of traditional and cultural activities are going on here so that the children that go to this school can see themselves in the curriculum. And I think that that’s a key factor in developing well-rounded people that are going to leave this school and go out and productive members of our community.”
“The more successful they are in knowing who they are, the more successful they will be when they go out into the world,” she said. “It sure would be nice have a school for them.”
The costs of a new 30,000 sq. ft. school will cost $9.6 million to construct and about another $2 million annually to sustain operations and management costs — but will provide so much for the students in return.
Majority of the cost will go towards equipment or furnishings, special construction and contingency, site work, interior, exterior, mechanical engineering plans, sub-structure, and services. The floor plan also includes a gymnasium, art room, science lab, library, computer lab, and resource rooms which are not present in their current building.
“The project is now at the shovel ready stage for construction and we are seeking financial donations to complete the construction stage. Financial contributions and all efforts to bring about a new school can be articulated in many forms. But at the very heart of the contribution is providing our future generations of a preserved language and culture. All donations are greatly appreciated and donors will be recognized for their contribution,” wrote Chair of the Board Ruby Jacobs.
And not only will the achievement of a new school help with the focus of Kaweni:io/Gaweniyo, it will help with the overall well-being of the staff and students.
Instructor Joanne Longboat, who teaches the Cayuga language half day with Grade 7 and 8 and the other half day with high school students at Kwenni:io/Gaweniyo, said that the need for more space is something she has noticed as the number of students has increased.
“We’re very grateful for this space that we have,” said Longboat. “But for our kids, they deserve so much really.”
She listed all of the facilities that would be great to have in the future such as computer labs and a library, as the need for them has becoming increasingly apparent. She also noted that receiving visitors is becoming difficult with lack of space.
“Something not really considered all of the time is that we get a lot of visitors to the school, from all over. Like different countries and everything, and they come here to the community and people send them over here and they’re so happy to visit. [But even to have a larger space to welcome them would be so nice].”
“I think that everyone here, staff and students alike would be so happy to have a place of our own,” she said. “I really wish that the community as a whole would value our school and what we do here at the school in terms of the language and culture, because that to me is what keeps us Onkwehon:we.”
If you have any questions or wish to find more information, contact Principal Linda Staats via her work (905) 768-7203, her cell (226) 208-1310 or her email firstname.lastname@example.org.