New school for flooded-out First Nation 2 years away

A new school for students in a flooded out First Nation is still two years away, but the official signing of construction plans was hailed as a historic day by the Lake St. Martin First Nation’s band Friday.

Officials say Lake St. Martin students' years-long stay in Winnipeg has hindered learning

The Lake St. Martin band signed a contract with Stantec Consulting for a new $18-million dollar school Friday. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

A new school for students in a flooded-out First Nation is still two years away, but the Lake St. Martin band hailed the official signing of construction plans as a historic day Friday.

"This is something all the community members are looking forward to," said Lake St. Martin Coun. John Ross.

Chief Adrian Sinclair said the new $18-million school will go up till Grade 12 — a first for the community, which up to this point had to send students off reserve to go to high school.

The school is being built by Stantec Consulting and the firm's plan is to have it ready for fall of 2019.

In addition to 12 classrooms, it will feature a soccer field, a baseball diamond and a skating rink — all amenities the old Lake St. Martin School never had. 

"The children are very excited," Sinclair said. 

The Interlake-area First Nation flooded when the provincial government diverted floodwaters to Lake St. Martin in May 2011. The community was destroyed after the flood and no one has been able to return so far. 

Sinclair said Friday he hopes to have residents housed on a new reserve next to the old one this fall.

Since being relocated to Winnipeg in 2011, students from the community have gone to school in an old junior high on Ness Avenue.

Students from the Lake St. Martin First Nation have been going to school on Ness Avenue in Winnipeg since 2011. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

The school has been subject to numerous fire and safety code violations in recent years and has closed down several times.

School officials say the school doesn't offer students the same learning they'd receive back home on reserve.

Lake St. Martin vice principal Susan Ryle-Munroe said dropouts have been a problem and students have turned to drugs and some as young as 12 have joined city gangs.

Missing way of life back home

"They don't know the way of life back home," said Ryle-Munroe.

"We can't go out there and make a fire and teach kids how to make a fire or out to make outdoor tea and stuff like that. We had the freedom to do that when we were home," she said.

To make up for the lack of outdoor Indigenous learning, the school has taken students to Fisher River, Man.

There, students spent a week learning traditional hunting methods and snared rabbits.

Lake St. Martin vice-principal Susan Ryle-Munroe said some students have dropped out or joined gangs. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

"It was fun. When I caught the rabbit it was frozen and I had to like carry it by the feet," said 10-year-old Mia Beardy, who has gone to five different schools in Winnipeg since 2011.

Students could face culture shock 

Ryle-Munroe said she worries how young Lake St. Martin students, who've never been in their home community, will adapt the day the community goes to its new reserve.

"That's going to be another story. How do you transition them back?" she said.

Elder Betty Traverse said an emotional prayer at the end of Friday's announcement. Traverse and the Lake St. Martin people haven't returned home since they were displaced in Winnipeg in 2011. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

"We've been talking about this to the kids, your home is gone, Lake St. Martin is basically gone, we're going home to a new community."

Friday's announcement ended with an emotional prayer from Betty Traverse, a Lake St. Martin elder.

"We all want to go home, Lord," Traverse, 76, said.


​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg. Since joining CBC in 2016, he's covered several major stories. Some of his career highlights have been documenting the plight of asylum seekers leaving America in the dead of winter for Canada and the 2019 manhunt for two teenage murder suspects. In 2021, he won an RTDNA Canada award for his investigative reporting on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which triggered change. Have a story idea? Email: