First Nations education centre in Thunder Bay to get major overhaul

The federal government is investing $16 million to complete an investment designed to keep First Nations students safe in Thunder Bay.

Leaders who gathered for the announcement said it was years in the making.

“It will help bring people together and that can only be a positive, not only for the Matawa students that will go here but for the people of Thunder Bay, the people in the neighborhood,” said Don Rusnak, the Liberal MP for Thunder Bay-Rainy River.

“These are kids coming here for an education, to better their lives.”

For students from the nine Matawa First Nations, the centre is a home away from home.

The centre use to house a long-term care home before it closed its doors.

In 2017, the city of Thunder Bay gifted it to Matawa First Nations.

Now it’s being developed into an education and care centre for up to 200 students.

And for the many people involved, including Matawa’s education manager, it’s personal.

“This is not just a job for us, many of the staff that are here have lived that experience of leaving the north and coming to the city basically on their own,” said Sharon Nate.

“It’s still happening today. It happened to my parents, it happened to myself, it happened to my child.”

In 2018, Indigenous Services invested $1.9 million to start the development of the education and care centre.

The push to have such a centre came from recommendations out of the student inquiry that looked into the deaths of seven First Nations students who died while attending school in Thunder Bay.

The recommendations said students needed a residence, or living facility for students who come to the city away from their parents and communities.

“This will go a long way in bridging those cultural divides in the city of Thunder Bay,” said Rusnak. “It’s just one step, it’s not the panacea, it’s not the answer but it’s an important and a big step in bridging those divides between communities here in Thunder Bay.”

Andy Beaver is a Grade 12 student from Nibinamik says the new centre, which will have 100 beds and a fully equipped gym, can offer more for its students.

“It’s completely different, you get to socialize more with students and teachers and they have cultural activities here as well as after-school programs,” said Beaver.

“It’s a really good experience.”

For now students use the centre for their studies and other programming.

The project is expected to be completed in the fall of 2020.

“It helps create safe space for their safety as well to keep things in check, I guess you can say,” said Beaver.



Video Journalist / Thunder Bay

Willow is an Oji-Cree Anishinabe from Sandy Lake First Nation. Her background is in print journalism and she studied multimedia before entering broadcast news . She is passionate about the stories of the Anishinabe in northwestern Ontario, particularly in the remote north.