A building that used to be a home for the aged in Thunder Bay, Ont., may find new life as an education centre and residence for Indigenous students from communities served by Matawa First Nations.
Matawa is a tribal council with nine member communities in northwestern Ontario. On August 28, Thunder Bay city council is scheduled to decide whether to sign off on granting the former Grandview Lodge to Matawa.
"It's going to be a home for [students], a family setting," said David Paul Achneepineskum, Matawa's CEO. "That's our vision."
The tribal council expressed an interest in acquiring the property in 2016, city officials said; council declared the property surplus earlier that year.
Administration is recommending granting the site.
The recommendation is based on a number of things, municipal officials stated in a written release, including the city owning a unique building which is not being used but ideal for the proposed school and Matawa being in a position to pursue the project.
The inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students in Thunder Bay also recommended the city resolve any red-tape issues that could hamper the construction of a residence for First Nations students or other needed facilities.
Increasing awareness of safety concerns for Indigenous youth, particularly in light of the inquest and the deaths of two more First Nations teens in May, have reportedly raised concerns among parents about sending their children to the city for school.
"We are very respectful of parents that may decide not to send their kids to Thunder Bay," Achneepineskum said. "But also, with the program that we're going to be developing ... we want to make sure the safety, the health of the students is the primary, number one [concern]."
Grandview is already well suited to serve as an education centre and housing, and won't need much in the way of renovations, Achneepineskum said.
'We want to find a solution'
Responding to safety concerns pertaining to Indigenous young people is a priority for the city, said Coun. Iain Angus, who was on-hand Tuesday to help announce the proposal.
It would be "a way to say to the northern communities 'look, we want to find solution,' and here is one that will apply to a number of communities," Angus said.
The plan, if all approvals are granted, would see the new facility accommodate about 100 students. "It's a unique opportunity," Angus said. "Cities don't usually have vacant buildings that can house 100 students."
If council authorizes the letter of intent to grant the property to Matawa, an agreement is expected to be finalized sometime in the fall.