Students in Pimicikamak have not been in class since Monday because teachers in the northern community, formerly known as Cross Lake, are picketing for what would be their first salary increase in 20 years.
"We did have several meetings before that and we gave a heads-up to chief and council that this is what we were going to do," spokesperson Allan Ross said.
"The main issue is that the teachers in Cross Lake have been underpaid for 20 years. The last time they got an adequate raise was in 1996."
Ross has been a teacher for 26 years. He says his salary maxed out in 1995. He receives $57,499 a year.
"In Thompson, they make $96,000 at the same five-year level, with 10 years experience max," Ross said.
The councillor who handles the community's education portfolio, Mervin Garrick, said the band supports the teachers in their quest for higher wages, but the First Nation can't afford the 40 per cent salary increase the teachers want.
"Instead of our teachers picketing our band office, they should be picketing the Department of Indian Affairs in Winnipeg, the regional office," Garrick said.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada provides education funding to the band. The band receives $5,400 a year per student, Garrick said, a fraction of what provincially funded schools get.
"Our teachers do the same thing as the teachers in Winnipeg. They follow the provincial curriculum. Everything is done in the same manner and yet our teachers only get about one-third of what the province is paying [in funding per student]," Garrick said.
Ross said the teachers are prepared to picket until their salary demands are met.
"We went to the same universities.We got the same degrees. We got the same experiences, the same job, the same services being delivered, with less resources," Ross said.
"My wife is a teacher," he added. "She teaches little kids, and she's pretty heartbroken about this. She would like to get back to the classroom as soon as she can."