Students at a First Nations school north of Winnipeg received a surprising response to a video they posted on social media, inviting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau out for a celebration.
Administrators from the newly-established Manitoba First Nations School System — which is celebrating its inaugural year — had tried to reach Trudeau through formal letters and phone calls, hoping to invite him to their grand opening ceremony on Wednesday.
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Getting nowhere, they decided to take another route.
They turned to the students at one of their schools, Sergeant Tommy Prince School in Brokenhead First Nation, and created a whimsical video invite.
The video, posted to Facebook, features students introducing their community, jumping out from behind a tree, swinging on the play structure and standing in different areas of the school as they ask Trudeau to come to a ribbon-cutting ceremony and feast for the MFNSS on Oct. 11.
"The stars on the video were so cute and engaging, it went viral," said Nora Murdock, a director with the MFNSS. "And it got the attention of the prime minister."
In response a few days later, Trudeau posted a Facebook video with the same playful tone, jumping out from behind things in his office, like the Canadian flag and a door. He explains he can't make it because he'll be out of the country.
"This is historic," Trudeau says. "Congratulations to all of you and enjoy the feast for me."
He asks the students to keep him updated on how things are going, adding "the sky's the limit for you."
Murdock said the response came as a complete surprise and one that has thrilled the students.
"They're really happy … and I think they're kind of in shock that he actually did it. It's an excellent consolation to the fact that he can't be here," she said. "I think this says a lot about our prime minister that he listens to those students and is concerned about First Nations education. It's a positive message for all of us."
Tanya Kent, who is in Grade 8 at Sergeant Tommy Prince School says she couldn't believe it when she saw the video Trudeau's sent back.
"I thought it was awesome that he just didn't write on a comment or something — that he actually responded on video," she said. "That was really cool, like he was participating and answering back fully."
Although Trudeau can't make it to the ceremony, Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott will be there on the government's behalf.
Students understand Trudeau's absence
While the students had hoped to see the Prime Minister at the opening, Kent said she could understand that Trudeau wouldn't be able to make it.
"This is a big thing but sometimes he has bigger things that happen and he said he has to go, I think out of the country," she said. "So its probably something pretty important to be missing this."
Ten First Nations signed the agreement in December 2016 to create the MFNSS and in July 2017, the federal government transferred all jurisdiction over the schools to the new school board.
The new funding formula has given the school system more access to resources, according to Murdock.
All students in the system were given new backpacks at the start of this year, filled with supplies and a lunch bag, she said, adding that teachers have also been equipped with upgraded materials and increased salaries.
While the federal government had always been in charge of the 10 Manitoba schools that have now started their own division, and their funding, Sergeant Tommy Prince School principal Rhonda Mishaud said the new system has meant an increase in tuition funding for the students.
'It feels great'
That increase in funding has led to new paint on the school's outside walls, hallways, and gym, and new furniture throughout the school. There's also new library books and updated resources for the school's math programs, as well as new resources for their special education program, and new physical education equipment, said Mishaud.
There's also smart boards in the school's classrooms, and they're looking at upgrading their technology, she said.
"You can tell they're getting a lot more money than they were. We got binders and school supplies too which is pretty awesome because we never got supplies before," said Kent.
The Grade 8 student was also excited about "new books, a library now. Laptops, so a lot of big changes for us, educationally. which I think is awesome."
"It feels great, last year we didn't have twice as many opportunities that we do this year and I'm really excited for that."