New Anishinaabe immersion school opens in Kenora, Ont.

Children from First Nations near Kenora, Ont., now have the option of attending a school where their own native language will be the primary one spoken.

Kiizhik Gakendaasowin offers classes from kindergarten to Grade 2, plans to add new grade each year

The Anishinaabe immersion school opening this month in Kenora is the dream of the Bimose Tribal Council. Tania Cameron, (l) is the chair of the board for tribal council and Andy Graham (r) is the education director (Bimose Tribal Council)

Children from First Nations near Kenora, Ont., now have the option of attending a school where their own native language will be the primary one spoken.

Kiizhik Gakendaasowin held an open house on Monday.

It's an initiative of the Bimose Tribal Council that will offer students in kindergarten to Grade 2 instruction in literacy and numeracy in English and everything else in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibway language). A new grade will be added each year.

"It's so important that our students have access to the language, the Anishinaabe language, but also the cultures and traditions that unfortunately our public schools are not able to provide," said Andy Graham, the tribal council's director of education.

"We're finding that the success rates of our students that are in the public systems are not as good as non-Anishinaabe students and we want our students to have even more success,"  Graham added.

20 children already enrolled

The new school is located in the old Our Lady of the Valley Catholic School at 1450 Valley Drive in Kenora. It has been renovated to create an 'Anishinaabe-inspired classroom environment", including brightly coloured classrooms.

Children from Ochichaagwe'Babigo'Inning (Dalles), Northwest Angle 33, Obashkandagaang (Washagamis Bay) and Wauzhushk Onigum (Rat Portage) First Nations are eligible, as well as First Nations students living in Kenora.

Twenty children are already enrolled and the school has received 50 more applications, Graham said. 

If space allows, and a tuition agreement can be reached with the public and Catholic school boards, students from other First Nations, or non-Aboriginal students will be accepted, he said.

The name of the school was determined during an Anishinaabe ceremony and includes the words for sky, cedar and learning lodge, all of which hold special significance, Graham said.