Urgent need for proper school in Kashechewan: Angus letter to Minister

Letters from students attached

 

The Honourable Bernard Valcourt

Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

441-S, Centre Block

House of Commons

Ottawa, ON   K1A 0A6

 

April 17, 2014

 

Re: Urgent Need for proper education facilities in Kashechewan First Nation

 

Minister Valcourt,

 

Please find enclosed, copies of letters to the Prime Minister written by Grade Three students in Kashechewan First Nation. You will see from these heartfelt messages, that these young people have hopes and dreams of a better future. You can also see the burden they already feel at such a young age by being deprived of access to a quality, “comfy” school which they can feel proud of and that gives them hope. To this end, I am writing you to take urgent action to provide proper education facilities in Kashechewan First Nation.

 

The situation in Kashechewan is affecting students at both the primary and secondary level. There are hundreds of primary school students being educated in portables. Like in neighbouring Attawapiskat, the portables were promised as a temporary solution but years have gone by without any commitment to building them a proper grade school.

 

As well, the lack of a capital maintenance investment is creating many problems at the high school. During a recent visit I saw water leaking on to the gym floor causing damage and forcing parts of the school to close. I saw water-logged tiles falling in classes and posing a general health threat to students. The ongoing water damage has caused bricks to start falling off the outside of the building. With water damage comes the threat of mould. In the basement crawl space they have replaced the drywall with anti mould drywall but with the leaks in the roof unresolved, such repairs are mere Band-Aids. I have also attached photographs so that you can see for yourself that the lack of an investment plan to remediate the roof is causing long term structural damage to the high school.

As a former school board trustee, I can assure you that such things would never be tolerated in the provincial system in Ontario. The provincial school boards would never leave students (especially in a

sub-Arctic climate) to be educated year after year in portable structures that were supposed to be

temporary. And yet, the students of Kashechewan as residents of Ontario are expected to graduate to the standard of the Ontario curriculum while being denied fair access to resources and proper schools like their counterparts in the Provincial system.

 

It has been five years since the Parliamentary Budget Office released a damning report on the mismanagement of capital spending for school projects at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. I urge you to read this report and to examine why monies that have been allocated for school projects such as Kashechewan have not flowed despite being approved in the federal budget.

 

Unfortunately, there seems to be little improvement as we learn that last year your Department failed to spend $33 million of the $175 million set aside for First Nations schools infrastructure in communities like Kashechewan. The $33 million would have been more than adequate to build a proper grade school, while ensuring remediation funding to address the damaged roof at the high school. But instead of spending the money where it was badly needed you allowed this funding to be re-profiled into another fund. This is not the kind of leadership we need when there is such a clear shortfall in capital spending for education on reserves.

 

Therefore, I urge you to personally intervene and remediate this situation so that students at the primary and secondary level in Kashechewan First Nation can have access to quality education in buildings that inspire them to become fully-equipped citizens of the 21st century.

 

Finally, Minister Valcourt, I leave you with the insight I learned from the late Cree youth leader Shannen Koostachin. She taught me that building a school is not an infrastructure project, it is a hope project. If you take the steps necessary to address this intolerable situation, you will be ensuring that hope will take root in this wonderful generation of young students in Kaschechewan.

 

I look forward to hearing from you.

 



Charlie Angus
MP Timmins-James Bay

 

cc.            Chief Derek Stephens, Kashechewan First Nation

                Grand Chief Stan Louttit, Mushkegowuk Tribal Council

                National Chief Shawn Atleo, Assembly of First Nations

                Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, Nishnawbe Aski Nation