First Nations school struggles to afford basics
Boarding school budget allows only $2 per day to feed each student
Posted: Aug 31, 2012 10:48 AM ET
Last Updated: Aug 31, 2012 10:43 AM ET
The organization that runs a boarding school for First Nations students in Northwestern Ontario says it needs more money to adequately provide for the teens in its care.
Pelican Falls School serves students from fly-in First Nations where there are no high schools. The students come from hundreds of kilometres away and live on site.
“Once we cover the salaries of our staff, we are left with two dollars a day to feed our students,” said Norma Keejick, executive director at Northern Nishnawbe Education Council, which runs the school.
Keejick said the school receives $6,618 per student living on site. Nearly 200 students are enrolled this year. They live in small houses with a live-in house counsellor, at a ratio of 14 students for each counsellor.
Administrators constantly struggle to balance the need to support teenagers living away from home with more basic needs such as food, Keejick said.
Toilet paper a luxury
At the opening assembly this week, Keejick told students she listened to concerns they raised in a survey last spring, and their bathrooms will be stocked with higher-quality toilet paper.
“No more sand paper,” she said, to the laughter and applause of students.
Eighteen-year-old Randall Petawanick from Weagamow is heading into his fourth and graduating year at the school, and said he enjoys coming to Pelican.
“My sister graduated here, so I thought I’d graduate here too,” he said. “Getting the education, the learning, I just listen and be obedient.”
Petawanick is also an athlete, playing on the school’s hockey and volleyball teams, and is considering taking up cross-country running this fall. He says he doesn’t mind the school diet, which is heavy in rice and noodles.
“It’s good,” he laughed. “As long as I get to eat.”
But Petawanick wasn’t always so happy to be here. He said he was homesick during the first year far away from his mom and familiar surroundings.
Students, staff battle homesickness
Keejick said the first few weeks of school are especially difficult.
“Already, yesterday, we had a student breaking down that was already homesick,” she said on Wednesday. “And then it takes staff away to go and help the student and make her comfortable.”
Keejick said that’s what makes support staff so essential, even if it does mean squeezing the budget for basics.
“Everybody has to always cut back, so we can ensure our students have what they need,” she said.
But, Keejick adds, it shouldn’t be this way. She said First Nations students shouldn’t have to make so many sacrifices for an education they’re forced to leave home to receive.
The Assembly of First Nations is planning a strategy session in October for chiefs to discuss ways to push the federal government to spend more on their children’s education.
The AFN said, on average, First Nations schools receive about 40 per cent less funding than their provincial counterparts.
Latest Thunder Bay News Headlines
- Thunder Bay council spins wheels on bike lanes
- Thunder Bay city council's decision to delay a vote on proposed new bike lanes by a week could set the project back by a month. more »
- Half of First Nations children live in poverty
- Half of status First Nations children in Canada live in poverty, a troubling figure that jumps to nearly two-thirds in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, says a newly released report. more »
- Bob Rae quits as MP in 'very emotional' decision
- Bob Rae, who has represented the Toronto Centre riding for the Liberals since 2008, is stepping down as a Member of Parliament to devote more time to his work as a negotiator for First Nations in Northern Ontario. more »
- Former counsellor, babysitter charged with sexual assault
- Thunder Bay police have charged a 46-year-old man with sex-related offences dating back to 1983. more »
Top News Headlines
- Obesity called a disease by U.S. doctors group
- The American Medical Association has voted to recognize obesity as a disease, while doctors in Canada say they also treat it as such. more »
- Neil Macdonald: Washington's obsession with leakers
- Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are just the most prominent targets in an all-out legal and propaganda campaign that America's security apparatus is mounting against leakers everywhere, Neil Macdonald writes. more »
- How open is Ottawa's new 'open data' website?
- Treasury Board President Tony Clement is touting the federal government's revamped data portal as a "new natural resource." But that online window for previously published data arrives at the same time the government faces controversy over just how open it really is. more »
- 30,000 Canadians are homeless every night
- A new national report into homelessness in this country tells a grim story — at least 200,000 Canadians experience homelessness in any given year and least 30,000 Canadians are homeless on any given night. more »