Fort Severn in crisis as children go without a school and INAC continues to study the situation

Fort Severn is presently 15th on INAC’s list to get a new school sometime within the next few years. The existing school was shut down in early June of this year due to severe mould contamination. In late August, INAC’s Regional Director met with Fort Severn leaders to recommend a "remediation strategy" as the solution to the existing school. The Chief and Council, using their own resources had determined that a temporary school facility would address everyone’s short and long term needs while the scheduled new school is planned and built. They require a decision from INAC immediately to be able to meet the scheduled barge delivery of construction materials for the temporary facility. The barge leaves Moosonee at end of September.

James Bartleman, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and NAN’s Grand Chief Stan Beardy witnessed the crisis first hand during a visit to the community last week. Later Mr. Bartleman, in the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal newspaper, stated "right now they’re in bad shape". Grand Chief Stan Beardy in a CBC radio program described the situation as "depressing".

Additional structural and historical problems with the existing school prevent it from becoming useable again for the community. The September 9 issue of Wawatay also documents these problems. A study commissioned by the Fort Severn leaders found that parents will no longer send their children to this site even if it was remediated. Historically, INAC officials decided to build the school at the present location even though local elders told them it was not suitable due to spring water and graves sites located there.

Now that their children’s health has been compromised by the existing building, parents are demanding a different facility for their children to attend. They require assurances that the health problems that they saw their children experiencing this past spring will not reoccur. Eleven families have already been forced to relocate to other centres so their children can attend school. INAC officials are aware of this information and these reports but everyone is still waiting for their support to address this crisis.

Fort Severn leaders took it upon themselves to include in their request for tenders for the temporary school facility that the buildings be able to be converted to teacher living quarters once the new school is completed. Existing teacherages are also contaminated with hydrocarbons and are aging due to the harsh weather conditions in Fort Severn resulting in the need to be replaced. The multiple usages for a properly designed and constructed temporary school facility will ensure that this investment will result in continued use after their primary function as a school is completed.

Fort Severn leaders received estimates from the engineering firm that the cost for remediation and structural upgrades of the existing school has been estimated to be $3 million and will require the existing school to remain closed for an undetermined length of time. For this amount, the Chief and Council presented plans in August for INAC to fund their temporary school that would be in place by January. At the same time a new school can begin to be planned and built for the children of Fort Severn.