By Sol Mamakwa MPP (Kiiwetinoong)
THUNDER BAY – I support the community in their decision to close the school. The health and safety of students are of the utmost importance in this situation – just as it would be in any city, any town or any small community in Ontario. We know that the education of Ontario children is critical to our well being and future success but in a situation where a school is in poor condition and in violation of applicable building codes and health and safety requirements like those in Kashechewan; the protection of the health and safety of the children comes first.
Any Ontario parent knows this. All parents know that children cannot learn when their schools are not warm, when they are not safe, or when they may cause serious health problems for their children. How is it that in 2018, in this great and rich province of Ontario, that school-aged children can be told that no, they will not go to school today or any day, until the building conditions of their schools are made safe enough for them to go?
It is a sad reality for First Nations in this province that situation like this is not the exception but the norm. In my riding of Kiiwetinoong alone, I see the same situation play out over and over again. Sadly, Indigenous people in this great and rich province of Ontario have begun to accept these low standards, these hazardous conditions as normal – or worse, that this is all they can expect to hope for as Indigenous peoples in this province. Over the many years of colonization – remnants of which still remain intact – Indigenous people in Ontario have been ‘socialized for scarcity’ as Dr. Paul Farmer would put it.
We often hear about the horrible conditions of children and families in other parts of the world, And as Ontarians, we believe that at least our children do not have to suffer in this way. Yet, the Chief of Kashechewan would be hard pressed to say that the children and parents of his community are not being exposed to the same horrible and harmful living conditions as those of the 3rd world. In fact, over many generations, the Indigenous leadership in this country have come to understand that our living conditions are those of a ‘4th world’. A 4th world where – while Indigenous people live in one of the richest countries in the world – many live in ‘state-directed’ poverty and in much the same conditions as children and families living in the 3rd world.
This is certainly not something to be proud of and certainly not something that can be seen as acceptable; By anyone including this Conservative government. As the fall legislative session is about to begin, it is surely something all Ontario parents will want Premier Ford and his Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Greg Rickford to address quickly. All children in Canada have the right to education. And the right to safe and comfortable schools in which to grow and learn. Surely all Ontarians will want to ensure that this standard is maintained for all children. Including those who live in Kashechewan and in Kiiwetinoong, my riding, where the majority of children and families are Indigenous.