Kashechewan kids lobby Ottawa for new school—'It should be treated as an emergency, because it's an emergency'

Two busloads of kids from the James Bay community of Kashechewan will be on Parliament Hill Monday instead of going to school. They haven't been in class yet this September, after the First Nation deemed the old portables at the elementary school unsafe and unhealthy.

Kashechewan chief to also discuss relocation of flood-prone community at Monday meeting

Several dozen school kids from Kashechewan on the James Bay Coast will be in Ottawa Monday to help their chief and MPP lobby the federal government for a new school. (Charlie Angus)

Two busloads of kids from the James Bay community of Kashechewan will be on Parliament Hill Monday instead of going to school. 

They haven't been in class yet this September, after the James Bay First Nation deemed the mouldy 10-year-old portables at the elementary school unsafe and unhealthy.

They're in Ottawa hoping to convince the federal government to build a new school in the remote fly-in Cree community.

Kashechewan Chief Leo Friday will be there as well and has several meetings scheduled, including with Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott. 

Friday said the community would like a brand new school, but he thinks a temporary solution could be worked out this fall.

He believes that foundations for new portables could be dug this fall and the school re-opened over the winter.

But he says that will require uncharacteristically quick action from Indigenous Services Canada. 

"It's possible if they work really hard at it. It should be treated as an emergency, because it's an emergency," Friday says.

Leo Friday is the chief of Kashechewan First Nation. (Radio-Canada/Joël Ashak)

In the meantime, the 400 elementary students in Kashechewan will start classes next week at the nearby high school.

Friday says it will be quite crowded, as the 12-classroom high school already has 200 teenaged students. 

He says he's hopeful that he won't have to lobby as long as the neighbouring Attawapiskat First Nation, which pushed for years before getting a new elementary school in 2014.

"I don't want to be waiting for a long time, because we've been waiting for a long time to relocate already and the government doesn't want to put any money into the community because of the flood zone," says Friday.

Slow progress

The long-delayed relocation of the entire community of Kashechewan is also on the agenda for Monday's meeting.

The previous Liberal government agreed in 2006 to move the flood-prone community to a new site further up the Albany River, but that plan was scrapped when the Conservatives came to power.

Last year, the new Liberal government signed a framework agreement with Kashechewan, that included the possibility of moving the 1,700 people to a higher ground.

But Friday says progress has been very slow.

He says the government has commissioned a study on the suitability of the proposed location for the community, which in the past was known as "Site 5", which is expected to be complete later this month.
 

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca