Parents, Indigenous leaders dread practical reality of Catholic school ruling
'We would have to go somewhere else and I don't think that's right' says mom of non-Catholic student
First Nations leaders and parents of Indigenous children in Saskatchewan say they are not keen on removing their children from Catholic schools, following a controversial court ruling last week.
That decision, issued by the Court of Queen's Bench, would make it unlawful for the provincial government to continue paying for non-Catholic students to attend separate schools starting June 30, 2018.
"It was the wrong decision for sure," said Bobby Cameron, the chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. "Any time you take away education opportunities for any child, it's not a good decision.
"Education for any students is an opportunity that should be readily available for anybody, despite their religion or their class," he said.
'I like the programs they have'
The decision raises questions about the future of Catholic schools like St. Frances School in Saskatoon, which offers a popular Cree bilingual program. That program has been a major draw for many of the school's 550 students.
At St. Mary's school in Saskatoon Wednesday, a number of parents told CBC News their children were members of the Saskatoon Tribal Council, but not Catholic.
Marlene Halkett said her daughter, a Grade 1 student, enjoyed attending school at St. Mary's.
"I like the programs they have for the kids," said Halkett. "They have dancing, karate. I like it. She just came from swimming today too."
The prospect of moving her child to another school is daunting, she added.
"We're part of the community so that would really affect us. We would have to go somewhere else and I don't think that's right. I think it should be for anybody in the community."
Logistics of moving students 'immense'
Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas echoed Halkett, saying the logistics of moving students are "immense."
"If the word of the court literally goes through, it's going to cause way too much problems, not only for children but Saskatchewan as a whole," he said.
Thomas even suggested the council could form its own school board in order to keep Indigenous students together and protect their programming.
The FSIN's Cameron said he was confident the situation will be resolved.
"They're going to do something," he said of the provincial government, "much like the reversal of the decision on the libraries. We'll be OK."
While decrying the court's ruling and saying that the government is looking at all options to fight it, Premier Brad Wall did not specify Monday whether the government will appeal the ruling.
Write your local MLA, says board
The Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools division is urging parents to contact their local politicians about the ruling.
"You can let your elected officials (your MLA, the Minister of Education, Don Morgan, Premier Brad Wall, and Leader of the NDP Trent Wotherspoon) know you endorse the government's position and that you want the government to pursue any measure necessary to continue funding all students who choose Catholic education," wrote Diane Boyko, the chair of the division's board of education.
It's unclear exactly how many students may be be affected by the ruling.
While it provided CBC News with total enrolment numbers for both St. Mary's and St. Frances schools, the division did not break down how many students at each school have baptismal certificates and how many do not.
"There's not one easy answer," said the division's communications consultant, Derrick Kunz, via email. "Baptismal certificates for which denomination? For parents or children? Both parents or one? Did a parent produce a piece of paper at registration or is it a self-declaration? It's complex."
with files from Jennifer Quesnel