Matawa First Nations seeking $25M to reopen its schools

Ontario Premier Doug Ford wants children to return to school full time in the fall.

Mattawa First Nations

Matawa First Nations in Ontario is estimating it will cost an additional $25 million to safely and adequately reopen schools after months of living under restrictions because of COVID-19.

The Nations said it released a plan on Thursday because of a lack of pandemic money from the province of Ontario.

Matawa First Nations and their Education Authorities require funding envelopes being made available so that—just like every other parent in Ontario—parents from First Nations can also be assured that their children will be safe to send to school,” said the release.

The northern Ontario, James Bay, Cree and Ojibway nations first expressed concern in early July.

They decided during a virtual Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (NAN) special meeting on education in June that an adequate amount of money was not available to provide quality education while ensuring a safe environment for students in communities.

As students will be returning to school in a little over a month, Matawa chiefs say urgent supplementary funding is needed to provide services during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said he wants children to return to school full time in the fall.

While school boards across the province are saying they need more money Ontario’s education minister, Stephen Lecce, plans to reveal his school re-opening plan next week.

“We are preparing for all scenarios to ensure whatever challenge emerges in the fall, Ontario is ready to keep students learning,” said a statement from Lecce’s office.

“While our aim is to get students in class on a daily basis, it must be safe to do so.”

One of the major concerns Matawa has is the poor communication and internet services in their communities.

They say Matawa kids are not able to get the standard one megabit per second internet connection that is standard for students in Ontario.

The demand for emergency funding would also include funding for the Matawa Education and Care Centre in Thunder Bay.

“This funding is required for the Matawa Education and Care Centre to offer safe, supportive and equitable (to the province) education programming and services for our students,” Brad Nattiston, principal of the learning centre, said in a statement Thursday.

Chief Cornelius Wabasse of the Webequie First Nation said their kids deserve the same opportunities as other kids in the province and he doesn’t want to see any jurisdictional red tape between the governments of Canada and Ontario in providing help to Matawa schools.

“The only focus during this coronavirus pandemic time is their safety and ensuring they can continue their studies,” Cornelius said.

Constance Lake First Nation Chief Rick Allen said while schools in Ontario are consulting with parents on a safe return to school, Matawa education officials don’t have that option.

“There is no way around it, resources are needed to ensure the safety of our students. Time is running out for First Nations, there is only one and a half months left to the start of school,” Allen said.

In addition to increasing broadband connectivity, the $25M Matawa is asking for would go towards, among other things, personal protective equipment, additional home-based curriculum and learning materials, and teacher equipment and resources to accommodate remote learning.

Reporter / Ottawa

Originally from the Cree Nation of Chisasibi on the eastern coast of James Bay, Quebec, Jamie has lived in Ottawa since 2015. Trained in journalism at Carleton University, he has worked as a freelance print journalist and as a writer/researcher for the Cree unit of CBC North out of Montreal. Jamie was hired as the reporter/correspondent for the Ottawa bureau in October 2019.