A First Nation school in northern Manitoba remains closed after the discovery of a toxic, indoor mould.
“I had to do it,” said Guy Dumas, a director of education consultant for the Mathias Colomb Education Authority.
Dumas said he shuttered Sakastew School on Dec. 4 after uncovering a key document.
“I found some documents that were disturbing and that was lab results of the mould in the school,” Dumas said.
“When I (saw the mould name) stachybotrys…that is the same day I closed the school. I didn’t care what anybody said.”
Dumas said he suspected something was wrong because so many of the 590 students at the Kindergarten to Grade 12 school were missing classes.
“There was already so many kids that were sick (with) bleeding noses and coughing,” he said.
”There’s been one death…of a kid that had respiratory issues. That kid was in daycare. Another kid here been hospitalized and the doctor has determined it was for environmental reasons.”
A mouldy window frame inside a home on the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (submitted photo).
Dumas, who is originally from Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (also known as Pukatawagan), a fly-in community about 800 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, said he was shocked at how mould-infested the school and houses were.
“There’s been a lot of kids that have been medevaced for respiratory complications. I’ve asked the health centre to provide me with some records so that I can build a case on this.
“I’ve taken care of the school issue; now I’m focused on the community.”
Dumas, who now lives in Ontario, blamed “shoddy workmanship and poor quality materials” used to construct the $14-million school that employs 87 people.
He said the federal government, which set the tender and paid for the work, was responsible.
“Students and teachers are now displaced indefinitely from this academic institution supplied under treaty, and also their treaty right to education is now fully compromised,” he stated in a letter to Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett.
Dumas hand delivered the letter to Bennett’s Toronto constituency office Friday.
In the letter he referenced the housing state of emergency in the northern Ontario First Nation of Cat Lake, due to mould, leaking roofs and other structural problems.
The school in northern Manitoba has been closed since Dec. 4, 2018 due to mould (Facebook).
“Mould is killing people,” he wrote. “Mould is affecting psychological, health and living standards of people.”
Dumas’s letter adds pressure to the push for more attention on the housing crisis gripping Indigenous communities across the country.
The federal NDP released data Thursday showing inspectors have detected mould on almost every First Nation in Canada – including Mathias Colomb.
Mould was present in each of 1,294 homes inspected between Nov. 4, 2015 and Sept. 27, 2018, said the data shared with APTN News.
NDP MP Charlie Angus (Timmins -James Bay), who represents Cat Lake, called it a “mould crisis.”
Dumas said the mould in Sakastew school was greenish black in colour and caused by a leaking roof.
He said it was known about for some time, allegedly as far back as 2006.
But he said no one was dealing with it.
“So many people are conditioned and brainwashed and…everything’s so normalized up there. It’s really sad.”
Phone and email messages seeking comment from Chief Lorna Bighetty were not returned by deadline Friday.
Dumas said he hired a Winnipeg-based company to remove the mould over Christmas break, and now a new company is on site doing rebuilding.
In the meantime, he said teachers were working with students in their homes until the school reopens.
A government spokesperson confirmed the letter was received Friday and forwarded to Indigenous Services, which oversees First Nations’ infrastructure.
She said the department was reviewing the situation and confirmed Indigenous Services Canada officials met with chief and council on Jan. 17 to discuss the mould problem and possible solutions.