More money needed for reserve school says Lennox Island Chief
Chief Matilda Ramjattan says her school gets 40% less funding than provincial schools
The Chief of the Lennox Island First Nation, Matilda Ramjattan is hoping the federal government will give more money to the reserve's elementary school.
Ramjattan said the school gets $6,000 per student from Ottawa.
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By contrast, P.E.I.'s Department of Education says for the 2016-17 school year, the cost per student in public schools is approximately $10,950.
"Parity is not too much to ask for. We have every right to receive the education that someone across the [Lennox Island] bridge receives," said Ramjattan.
She said while she appreciates the work Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has done in his first year in terms of nation-to-nation building, she said Indigenous leaders across Canada will keep pressuring Ottawa for more money.
"We don't want our kids to look back and say, 'Why is it that we are not getting what they get. Is it just because of who we are?'" she said.
"I don't want to sit there and look at my grandchildren and say, 'Yeah, it's because of who we are as First Nations that we are not funded the way everyone else is.'"
'We always make the best with the money that we have'
Ramjattan said the number of students at John J.Sark Memorial school has stayed steady over the years — between 35 and 44 students, and it's projected to rise.
She said the funding it receives from Ottawa has to cover everything from salaries to heating and curriculum.
"Of course we always make the best with the money that we have. I always say that we're creative natives," said Ramjattan. "But it means we're not always going to provide everything the province is doing, which we would love to do. We would like to be on par with the province."
No money left for specialized teachers
The reserve's director of education, Neil Forbes, said the band only receives enough money to hire four classroom teachers, so there's little money left over for specialized positions.
"We don't have access to a full-time music teacher, a full-time gym teacher. We don't have access to any of the school board's speech pathologists. We don't have access to a school counsellor. All of those positions," he said.
"So if we wanted to attract a teacher with their master's [degree], there would be absolutely no reason for them to come here because they would be making so much less money."
While there is a fairly low student-to-teacher ratio, Forbes said the teachers teach multiple grades "with a wide range of levels and needs, and we do not have the same infrastructure and size, and personnel that the public school branch has so a lot of extra duties fall on the staff."
"It is known that First Nations in Canada have lower graduation rates, lower literacy rates and that includes us," he said. "But we are working hard to provide our students with an excellent education but we have to do more with less."
Students running out of space: Chief
The school was built in 1981, and Ramjattan said staff and students are running out of space.
Ramjattan is looking for funding for a new library. The current one doubles up as a classroom and a lunch room.
She said the school is also used as an emergency shelter for the community. The generator provides enough power for lights and heat, but not enough to run a hot plate or oven to feed people.
The band has applied for money to build a cafeteria in the school that could also double as an emergency shelter for the community.
Government 'committed to investing'
A spokesperson for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada said in an email to CBC News that the government is committed to improving education infrastructure in First Nations communities, and the $969.4-million investment included in the 2016 budget is an important first step.
Shawn Jackson said in the statement, "An essential component of a student's education is having a safe and healthy place in which to learn. The government of Canada is committed to investing in the building and refurbishing of First Nation schools to help improve educational outcomes for First Nation students."
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