Arson suspected as fire destroys school in Eabametoong First Nation


A fire at the John C. Yesno Education Centre in Eabametoong First Nation. Photo: Facebook.

An early morning fire has destroyed a school in Eabametoong First Nation in northern Ontario, where the community says no one was hurt.

“We are extremely devastated by the fire that took place this morning in our community as a result of what we suspect as arson,” said Chief Solomon Atlookan in a statement posted online. “This will result in a major disruption to our school year as the fire rendered the school inoperable for the remaining 5 months.

“This will deprive approximately 299 students from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 9 of an education.”

The school, located in the heart of Eabametoong, was integral to delivering education and providing programs to the community.

Members of Eabametoong First Nation, 370 km northeast of Thunder Bay, took to Facebook to share their reactions to the loss of the John C. Yesno Education Centre, with many expressing sadness and calling on community and provincial leaders to act quickly to ensure students have an alternate space for schooling.

Atlookan said the Ojibwe community will be working with the federal government and Matawa Education Authority to work out how it will be replaced.

“Moving forward, will be continuing with our plans (on a more urgent basis) for a new school that we have had in the ISC (Indigenous Services Canada) capital project process over the past number of years already to replace JCY,” said Atlookan in the statement.

“To our community, we say – justice will prevail and together we will overcome.”

According to the community, it received funding for two wildfire rapid attack trucks but because of a delay in completing the winter road, the trucks haven’t been delivered.

“The community had no alternative but to try to fight the fire with the few fire suppression resources available,” said the statement from the band.

Sol Mamakwa, NDP MPP for Kiiwetinoong, shared an image of the fire on social media.

“I am seeing multiple posts this morning from Eabametoong,” he said.

Ontario’s Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Greg Rickford, also issued a statement.

“Saddened to hear about the fire at Eabametoong First Nation’s school. Our government stands with the families and community members of EFN and is mobilizing quickly to ensure supports are available,” Rickford wrote.

According to the Teach for Canada website, the school was modern, well-equipped, with two computer labs, a library with a Smart Board, science lab, weight room, woodworking shop and kitchen.

With files from Austin Campbell, a local journal initiative reporter covering stories in the Superior North region.

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