Thunder Bay

Sioux Lookout, Ont. dwelling for Indigenous students celebrates success

The Independent First Nations Alliance held an official grand opening for its Home Away from Home Community Student Dwelling in Sioux Lookout, Ont., this week, but the event doubled as a celebration of the project's early success.

The 20 students living in the buildings passed 83 of 84 courses last semester.

An official grand opening for its Home Away from Home Community Student Dwelling in Sioux Lookout, Ont. earlier this week. (Submitted by Patrick Keating)

The Independent First Nations Alliance (IFNA) held an official grand opening for its Home Away from Home Community Student Dwelling in Sioux Lookout, Ont., this week, but the event doubled as a celebration of the project's early success.

Twenty students from Muskrat Dam and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug moved into the two buildings in late September of last year, and they passed 83 of the 84 courses they collectively took last semester, outperforming students living in boarding homes, said IFNA chief executive officer Mathew Hoppe.

"Our goal for next year is to have none of our IFNA students that are coming attending school in Sioux Lookout being [with] boarding parents," Hoppe said. "They're doing a great job. The reality is just we're able to provide additional supports."

The Home Away from Home currently consists of two buildings – one duplex containing five units for girls and five for boys and one home containing 10 units for boys, Hoppe said.

The goal is to build housing for an additional 20 students for the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

"The unique thing about this project and these units is that each one—there's no bunk beds, so one person, one room. But they all have their own full washroom," Hoppe said.

The students then share a kitchen, living area and recreation area. 

The buildings were financed with a conventional mortgage, which is paid using the Indigenous Services Canada funds that would otherwise go to boarding parents, Hoppe said.

Additional supports for students are paid for with funding from the Choose Life initiative, a federally-funded program aimed at improving mental health among Indigenous young people and curbing the youth suicide epidemic in some communities. 

IFNA does not currently have plans to build residences in Thunder Bay, Hoppe said, but it is open to the idea and is looking for ways to best support students from Whitesand First Nation who attend school in the city. 

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