GULL BAY FIRST NATION – Special to NNL – For Gull Bay First Nation, it really does take a village to raise a child. Last Friday, a contingent of GB FN parents, Council members and a community Elder participated in a visit to the Armstrong School where they were welcome by Lakehead School Board representatives Colleen Kappel and Principal John Clouthier and his staff. Who would have foreseen that something as simple as a site visit has now become the cause for an incredulous sense of joy in Gull Bay – at a time when good news is so greatly needed?
Gull Bay First Nation Students Return to School
Of the total number of school-aged children, only 30 were attending school at a peak period just before the Christmas break. With the idea of potential embarrassment felt by their children caused by the probable educational shortfalls between the GB students and their peers, some parents expressed their hesitancy in participating in the initiative. Council remained cautiously optimistic and projected student number of between 25 and the previous cap of 30 as they entered into negotiations with the Lakehead School Board and with AANDC.
But at last night’s registration rally held in the Gull Bay FN Health Centre, astoundingly 36 students were signed on to attend school starting this morning – representing an increase of 20%. It is hoped that as the good news travels back with the children, and that the remaining 9 students who have not been attending school in GB will be encouraged to do so with their peers in Armstrong bringing the total to 45. Each of the children was set to pick up their backpacks filled with school supplies including 12 pencils, 2 erasers and a sharpener, a ruler, a pencil storage box, a pair of age appropriate scissors, glue sticks, crayons, pencil crayons and markers for the older children, file folders, paper, 10 pens, binders and dividers, sticky notes, highlighters, and calculators for the upper grades, as well as a water bottle, a hat and a jacket with indoor runners coming later this week.
Lakehead School Board has already hired the 2 full-time teaching staff necessary to address the overflow to the current school population and is prepared to move their Literacy Interventionist from part-time to full-time as soon as the need is demonstrated. GB FN has hired a FN Support Assistant as well as a FN Administrative Aide and a community Elder to prepare daily lunches. Last night, GB volunteers assisted parents in the completion of the necessary forms and documents while others cleaned out a community kitchen facility, rearranged furniture and setup a system to ensure a clean, sterile environment in which the children’s lunches could be made.
Although this solution to GB FN’s infrastructure and funding problems is only temporary, for the Council and the community members, it represents a real opportunity to kick-start and refresh the vision of its children as to the importance of education in an environment that all who attended could clearly see is safe, inviting and respectful.
“For me, the visit only served to solidify that this was not only the last option available to save the school year for the children,” said King, “but that it represents possibly a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the kids to refocus themselves on learning experiences. I feel that it encourages Council to regroup their efforts of 2 years ago on its continued work to push for upgrades to the GB educational system looking into the future. We want to develop a unique pilot project which offers the Ontario curriculum and traditional teaching components on a year-round basis and we hope that Lakehead School Board will continue to partner with GB on this distinctive endeavor.”
It is worthwhile to note the disparity in education funding between the federal and provincial support systems. In the provincial education system, a child attending school in Thunder Bay has their annual tuition funded at a rate of $11,000 per student while a child in the Armstrong school receives $17,800 per year of support dollars. The federal educational funding given to FN communities who administrate their own schools sees a dramatic drop by comparison. GB FN Council currently receives approximately $5,800 per student plus some operating costs. But Chief King is confident that a realistic and acceptable funding scheme, one which could include investment by the First Nation itself, can be developed to address the serious current shortfall in educational allocation.
Personal thanks from Chief Wilfred King
To Cathy Siemieniuk (Director of Education); Sherrilynn Pharand (Superintendent of Education – Aboriginal Education); Colleen Kappel (Director of Education – Armstrong School); Deb Massaro (LSB Board Trustee Chair); Jo Jo Guillet; and Amy Farrell-Morneu (both Aboriginal Education Resource Staff), and of course to Principal John Clouthier and all of the staff at the Armstrong schoo.
Chi-miigwetch from the children, parents and caregivers, community members and Council of Gull Bay First Nation.
You have clearly demonstrated that there is a system that puts the needs of children first and that there are people who really understand the challenges and barriers experienced by GB in our attempts to deliver a quality education within the federal funding regime. I trust that Lakehead School Board will continue to be a most valuable partner as GB FN moves forward. Again, many thanks to you and all those involved behind the scenes – you have the appreciation of an entire community!
To Nokiiwin Tribal Council staff Ron Fisher (Student Success Program) and Roger Rozon (Tech Service), GB FN thanks you both for the assistance you have provided to date and for your continued commitment to help Council resolve the issues outstanding in regards to the delivery of the educational support required and the securement of the infrastructure so desperately needed to make our community functional. Chi-miigwetch to you both!
To the AANDC representatives in the Thunder Bay office who sat with us to address this urgent matter on behalf of the children of GB FN. To Owen Zoccole (Sr. Education Programs Officer) and Susan Troniak (Sr. Funding Officer), you continue to demonstrate that even federal public employees have hearts and common sense – a joke but not really.
This educational initiative shows that it’s not ‘us against them’ – GB against AANDC. Susan has committed to work diligently with Council not only to clear the way in education but to ensure the outstanding audits and reporting left incomplete by the previous Chief and Council will not prohibit GB FN from moving forward. To Lorraine Nabigon (Manager – Financial Services North) and Andrea Osala-Schaaf (Financial Services Officer), thank you for your participation and support. Your efforts have been and will continue to be greatly appreciated. To John Cornell (Capital Management Officer), Council looks forward to working with you in whatever capacity ensures that the community is provided with infrastructure and systems which are safe, healthy and sustainable. You have communicated this is your commitment also and we thank you.
Of course worth restating, chi-miigwetch to Whitesand First Nation. You have come to the assistance of our children by providing us with temporary bus transportation from Gull Bay to Armstrong and you have greatly helped the entire community by performing road clearing services until we can re-acquire the FN’s grader. Sam Shonias, a GB member, ably describes the connection between our 2 Nations ‘mitakuye oyasin’ meaning we are all related other than blood alone. Your support has not gone unappreciated. Trust that we will offer your community the same when asked.
And finally, I want to recognize a couple of local retailers who really helped GB stretch every precious dollar we had budgeted to obtain the bare essentials for the students which would ensure their easy integration and full participation in the Armstrong School. To Leslie (Manager at Old Navy) and Priscilla and Liz (at Bentley in Intercity and at Arthur Square respectively) – your kindness truly touched my heart. The children of GB are the lucky recipients of your thoughtfulness and the generosity of your companies in the provision of additional discounts. You heard about our story and the children’s plight and you offered to go over and above without hesitation. In doing so, you reinforced that there are many individuals that realize the importance of education and of all the necessary components that make up the tools that children need to be successful.
Courtesy of Gull Bay First Nation