Garden Hill teens studying in Winnipeg lose mentor
Teacher Wayne McLeod taking up job in Cross Lake so he can continue supporting students
A group of teenagers from a remote Manitoba First Nation that relocated to Winnipeg for better education opportunities is losing the mentor who has been providing for them in the city.
The six boys from Garden Hill, located about 475 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, came to the capital city this past fall to pursue studies at Tec-Voc High School.
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The teens came to Winnipeg as part of a program called Mino Bimaadiziwin — meaning "the good life" in Ojibway — in which they live clean lifestyles, attend school regularly, volunteer in the community and stay physically active.
"They're actually doing well, they're adjusting really well. Some are struggling, but you know what? They're not giving up," McLeod said of the students.
However, McLeod could not find a job in Winnipeg, so he has taken up a teaching position in Cross Lake, Man., to get himself out of debt.
Mino Bimaadiziwin receives some funding but not enough, said McLeod, who funds the rest of the program with his own money.
'I don't have a choice'
"It's a commitment I made with them. And for me to leave, I don't think it's fair. But I have to," he said.
"That wasn't my intention of leaving them here — to get them here and just to leave them. But right now, I don't have a choice."
With their main caretaker now leaving, the boys say they're worried that they may lose the home that McLeod has leased for them.
"I really love the school, too, and I wanna stay here," said 17-year-old Brandon McPherson, who is in Grade 11.
McLeod said he has to take the job in Cross Lake to ensure his students in Winnipeg can stay there until the end of the school year.
Mino Bimaadiziwin program leader Jordan Bighorn will fill in for McLeod while he's away.
"It's kind of going to be a make-or-break scenario," he said.
"I mean, we're going to have to delve in all our skills [and] all of our resources ourselves, but we're pretty faithful that we'll make it through."
Bighorn said the teens all know McLeod will be just a phone call away, but that offers little comfort when they are already hundreds of kilometres away from their home community.