Educational opportunities for Manitoba First Nations are about to get a much-needed boost as the federal government announced that it is investing $248 million to build four news schools and renovate another in four northern communities.
The new schools are being built in God’s Lake Narrows, Manto Sipi and Wasagamack First Nations.
Bunibonibee Cree Nation will also see a new school and renovations on their current elementary school.
Construction is expected to start in the spring of 2019.
The current school in God’s Lake Narrows only goes up to grade 9. Children leave the community to attend high school in Thompson among other cities.
In Manto Sipi the current high school ends at grade 11.
Both Bunibonibee and Wasagamack schools go up to grade 12.
Wasagamack Chief Gary Knott says overcrowding has prompted some students to move to Winnipeg for schooling.
“Our students, early years, middle years and high school student, have been cramped into one building with four portable classrooms since 1976,” he said.
Knott welcomed the news but said it has taken too long to get to this point.
The four communities have spent the past decade working on the project.
“This is a project we have prioritized because these communities have been waiting for far too long and their children have had to leave home,” said Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott.
Watch video of the school design in Bunibonibee courtesy Stantec Architecture
The project also opens the door for a series of economic opportunities in the communities.
God’s Lake Narrows has started training 50 members to work on construction of the schools.
Chief Gilbert Andrews said the new facilities will help bring in teachers.
“We don’t have much right now to attract quality teachers,” said Andrews. “We have our own teachers but we’re still short in a lot of areas.”
He added the community is looking into post-secondary options, as well, to provide satellite training with northern universities and colleges.
Jane Philpott said Friday that the design came from the communities.
“Each school has been specifically designed with the participation of community members who know exactly what they need and what the reality should look like,” she said.
“The schools have been designed with the needs, the traditions [and] the perspectives of First Nations peoples in mind.”
Once completed more than 2,600 students in five schools will have access to modern and expanded facilities.
Philpott said it’s one of the largest infrastructure contract awarded to First Nations in partnership with the federal government.
“This is critical for remote communities,” said Philpott. “Children will not have to leave home. They will not have to leave their parents, their grandparents and aunts and uncles.”
“They will be able to complete their high school education surrounded by the land [and] surrounded by their loved ones.”
The schools are set to open in fall 2020.