Federal worker strike puts 1,500 students in Ontario First Nations communities out of class

All federally run schools in Ontario First Nations communities have been closed by the public service strike, raising concerns from parents and community leaders.

All federally run schools in Ontario First Nations communities closed by public service strike

Tables covered in books and worksheets are set up in front of a brown-brick building with an orange "Every child matters" flag in the window.
Quinte Mohawk School is offering students and families educational resources, while it's shut down due to the ongoing public service strike. Six federally run schools are affected by the job action, leaving roughly 1,500 students out of class. (Quinte Mohawk School/Facebook)

Roughly 1,500 students at federally run schools on First Nations communities in Ontario are out of class as public servants continue to strike.

That includes 350 who attend Quinte Mohawk School east of Belleville, Ont., according to Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), and five schools on Six Nations of the Grand River in southern Ontario.

In an email to CBC, department spokesperson Zarah Malik said officials are working with First Nations leadership and families to "ensure students are provided with opportunities, including through homework packages, to continue their learning during the labour disruption."

The department will continue to update chiefs and councils about the strike, Malik added. 

A federally run school on Cold Lake First Nation in Alberta is mostly staffed by community members, not public servants, so it's not expected to close.

Parents juggling work and virtual school again

Brandi Akey, whose child is in Grade 1, said the situation feels like COVID-19 closures all over again.

"For me, it's struggling," said Akey, a member of Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte.

Akey said she works from home, which is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, she doesn't need to find a babysitter during the strike, but on the other hand it's a challenging juggle.

"I have to try to work but also try to home-school my child and play with him," she said. "He's a very active child. He's a six-year-old boy. That's been super hard."

Her son is already missing his friends and a sense of routine, said Akey.

"I find it very concerning only because of COVID and how far behind all of our students are," she said.

Hoping for an agreement soon

Akey was quick to express her sympathy for federal workers, recognizing many of them are parents struggling to pay for rising bills, gas prices and food costs.

"I hope everyone gets fair wages," she said. "I really hope that they come to an agreement soon."

Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte Chief Don Maracle said the federal government employs 17 teachers at the school. The principal and teacher's assistants are working to support students with worksheets and other educational tools, he added.

"I'm sure a lot of those parents were left scrambling to find a sitter," Maracle said. "It's affecting the community."

Six Nations council concerned

The chief said staff at the school are dedicated and will do the best they can to support students, but the strike's impact will be felt more keenly the longer it drags on.

"We are concerned about it and hope it gets resolved very quickly," he said.

Small children's shoes can be seen on a coat rack in the middle of a school hallway with green tiles. The walls are covered in student art.
The empty halls of Jamieson Elementary can be seen on Thursday. The school is one of five on Six Nations of the Grand River Territory shut down during the federal workers strike. (Aicha Smith-Belghaba/CBC)

Six Nations of the Grand River, which has more than 25,000 members, released a statement from its elected council saying it's "concerned for all of our members, students and families."

Community leaders are in regular contact with federal officials "in hopes of alleviating as much stress as possible," wrote Chief Mark Hill in a statement.

"We will continue to assert political pressure to get all those affected in our community back to their regular routines as quickly as possible."

With federally-run schools in Ontario First Nations closed as a result of the public service strike, we hear how Indigenous Services Canada plans to support families.


Dan Taekema


Dan Taekema is CBC’s reporter covering Kingston, Ont. and the surrounding area. He’s worked in newsrooms in Chatham, Windsor, Hamilton, Toronto and Ottawa. You can reach him by emailing

With files from Brett Forester and Aicha Smith-Belghaba