Fort Severn families continue to wait for decisions on their community school

Two recent letters received from the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs provide evidence about the delays, the finger pointing and the inability of INAC to put people and children first, as the community leaders work through the required paper process to deal with getting a new school. The children that are remaining in the community are presently using existing Band owned structures that were built by the community for other purposes but are now having to be used as classrooms.

The following two letters highlight the time it takes to get decisions to be made and the work completed that is part of the problem with getting a proper educational facility put into place for the Fort Severn children.

Letter from the Minister of Indain Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Metis and Non-Status Indians

March 7, 2005

Chief Roy Gray
Fort Severn First Nation
General Delivery
Fort Severn, ON P0V 1W0

Dear Chief Gray:

This is in response to your letter of December 13, 2004, addressed to the Prime Minister and forwarded to me, concerning the Fort Severn First Nation school's closure.

I acknowledge your frustration with resolving the problems associated with the school closure. The Department's Ontario regional officials have met with you and your Council on several occasions to establish what actions are required and which activities can be supported. I encourage you to continue working directly with the regional officials to make progress in this matter. I understand that December 2004, you agreed to contract an external group to provide an independent building analysis that departmental officials requested August 2004. This is viewed as a positive advancement, as a assessment is critical for determining supportable interim and long-term solutions to the school's closure.

As you are aware, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has agreed to support the renovation of existing community facilities to address life safety issues as a temporary measure. Departmental officials are available to support your Fist Nation, Tribal Council, and your consultant in developing this project.

The Department has also agreed to support a school capital planning study which will consider future education space requirements in your community. This component is important; however, the building assessment and provision of safe interim school space will be the initial priority.

Should you require assistance, please contact Mr. Dan Baxter, Capital Management Officer, Ontario Region, North, at (807) 624-1569.

Thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention.

Yours sincerely,

The Honourable Andy Scott, PC, MP

c.c.: Roger Valley, MP

INAC correspondence from Ron Green, Director, Funding Services, Ontario Region, INAC which the band received on Feb 24th with the letter dated Feb 11th.

February 11, 2005

Fort Severn First Nation
General Delivery
Fort Severn, Ontario P0V 1W0

Re: Fort Severn Washaho School

Thank you for your letter December 7, 2004 which outlined the status on the various initiatives now in progress to address the school closure. I will attempt to address all your comments as they pertain to the various on-going initiatives.

Temporary Classroom Facilities Renovations

Please provide an update on your progress in securing professional services, developing a tender package, undertaking a competitive process, and preparing a minor capital funding application and approval form. Timing is becoming critical if winter road material delivery is being considered.

We acknowledge that tendered prices may vary from the estimates prepared by Keewatin-Aski for life safety issues. It is our understanding that the proposed Phase I activities will provide a temporary classroom which meets minimum requirement as outlined in your consultants report.

In regards to the on-going maintenance of these temporary facilities, we can make an operation and maintenance allowance available as per our funding formula. It is not our intention to lease a facility which we are investing significant capital.

Assessment of Existing School

We recognize that you do not share our view that an objective independent analysis of the existing school is required. We acknowledge your view that undertaking this assessment delays a solution. It is our position that continued delays in undertaking the independent assessment, further delays the development and implementation of meaningful interim and long term solutions. Our department has clearly indicated this requirement since August 2004.

We are encouraged that you have further developed the Term of Reference provided to your First Nation August 26, 2004. The assessments and cost estimates of remedial activities previously prepared varied to extent that the available information requires verification. The completion of an independent analysis is critical to support the new school initiative. This assessment may also assist in determining the time period that the interim facilities are required.

I understand our review team has responded to the draft Terms of Reference on January 21, 2005. We look forward to receiving a revised document, and working jointly you to acquire the services to undertake the independent assessment.

School Feasibility Study

We are in receipt of the draft Terms of Reference for the School Feasibility Study. We expect to provide feedback on this document during this month. The contruction schedule of a new school remains undermined at this time. As advised, the assessment of the existing building will contribute to establishing the timing of a new school.

Should there be further issues or questions, please contact Dan Baxter, Capital Management Officer at 807-624-1569.

Ron Green
Director, Funding Services
Ontario Region

George Kakekaspan, who has worked on this file for Fort Severn First Nation and whose wife and children had to leave the community to access proper educational facilities for their children expresses his frustration with the situation in the following message ...

If you take a look at the band's December letter to INAC on page two part b, they clearly say that they are not in support of INAC not wanting to fund the balance of 658K or so to address the needs of existing facilities. They want the entire project paid by INAC. But this is now being ignored by INAC officials in their correspondence.

In the meantime, the band started to develop the required material list and have them bid on. The tendering process for bidding was completed by Keewatin Aski/Band (material to bid)  in January of 2005 for the Life and Safety portion of the project (420K) which INAC was willing to cover. The actual tendering was not sent out because the band has been waiting for a response from INAC to have the entire project covered (420+658). The band does not have the financial resources to cover the rest of the project.
What do they mean about not leasing a facility in which they made significant investments in? INAC has not invested a dime into the Youth Centre, Restaurant, Wahsa Learning Center, Washaho Store. The exception is the teacherage, which would only be done for the Life and Safety until the old KIHS school was completed in the regular packing (ie part of the $658K work). The teacherage was only a very temporary solution to get the kids in school from Jan to June. Fort Severn was asking if INAC would consider leasing these buildings in the interim until these issues are resolved.
Look through INAC correspondence which the band was replying to from our early December letter, which they responded to two months later? We needed immediate response to initiate the tendering. We did not want to get stuck with paying another tendering process which was not going to be funded by INAC which is what happened with the submission of the Temporary School being  brought in by barge last summer which we got stuck with a $ 30,000.00 bill.

The terms of reference will still be undergoing more changes back and forth discussions. The First Nation was not satisfied with the original and INAC will now be making more notes and will try to take some stuff  off. We will again have to wait for comments then (say 2 wks) another meeting to accept the agreed upon document. Then, say another 2 weeks for final production and release, then we have to advertise (another 4 weeks). Selection of consultant (2) with these consultants required to come into the community to make recommendations which will likely take another 2 months. Then they have to put the study together. From the looks of things and being involved in numerous other projects, I do not foresee the First Nation getting anything set up for next fall.
We have missed the boat twice, if anything is to be done, it will be using Air transportation costs which basically mean that all the costs in the present studies are out the door.
It is important to note that the children doing some schooling in Fort Severn are doing so in unsafe conditions which will not likely change for a while. Both INAC and the First Nation will be held liable should anything happen as they have a fiduciary responsibility for providing safe education facilities, even if they are considered temporary.
What happened to our treaty rights to education for our children?  What happened to our human rights where every child is entitled to a safe learning environment? What happened to the protection of our aboriginal rights to teach our children our traditions which my children cannot get in the city?
With the terms of reference process, my concern is that satisfying both INAC and the Band, the changes have now gone back and forth since August 2004 with both sides not being satisfied. This process is now expected to take up to another four months just to begin the planning work.
Even if the study proves that the present school is unsafe, then what? We start looking at the options that we have gone through before, taking even more time away from providing an educational facility for my children.
A formal response from the First Nation will be coming from the First Nation for both letters received from INAC.


Kathleen Koostachin wrote the follow up letter to INAC ...

Thursday March 17, 2005.

Kathleen Koostachin
Box 32
Fort Severn, Ontario
P0V 1W0

Dear The Honourable Andy Scott, PC, MP
         Roger Valley, MP
         Ron Green, Director, Funding Services

I’d like to address the decisive, delay tactics/strategies, and INAC’s inability to fulfill their responsibility to provide a safe proper educational facility to Fort Severn First Nation. I’m a parent, a teacher, and community member of Fort Severn. I’m frustrated and irritated at INAC ignorance in their inability to collaborate with Fort Severn First Nation.

Our current existing educational facilities are not suitable, but that’s the hand we’re dealt with. The hand we’re dealt with now includes risking our children’s lives to attend school to ensure our children are not falling behind in their studies.  Yes, INAC offered to allocate some funding to bring the Safety and Health codes up to standards. What good will it do when I know INAC will use this tactic to even further delay the process for a new school facility. 

Remediation of the existing school is not an option! INAC hasn’t been in the building to experience the health effects of that facility. INAC wasn’t there to see first hand how it effected the children’s and the staffs’ health. INAC didn’t see first hand how it affected my children’s health.  INAC didn’t see my children and what they went through due to the mold contamination. INAC didn’t care about my children then and INAC doesn’t care for my children now.

Studies have established the original foundation was built in an unsuitable site. What makes you think, remediation of the school will solve the problem? When there is a possibility it will reoccur in years to come. Do you expect us to accept this? There is no room to give us a temporary solution. It’s time to provide the children of Fort Severn with a proper educational facility.  INAC were the ones who didn’t listen 20 years ago. It was INAC’s decision to build the school on this unsuitable site. Now, its time, INAC face up to this irresponsible decision and provide good solid alternative educational facilities.  In the meanwhile INAC can further their studies to assess the reasons why INAC can’t provide Fort Severn First Nation with a new school or any other alternatives for a proper educational facilities. The children of Fort Severn need proper education facilities now, not later.

As First Nation people, it was this community of Fort Severn who set up the temporary schooling for the children in Fort Severn. I haven’t seen any INAC officials delegate their responsibilities and contribute first hand to assist Fort Severn. The only contribution I’ve seen and heard from INAC are empty leters contributions to further their delay tactics.

INAC can do all the studies they want; you can have 5, 6, even up to 100 studies. It won’t change the facts. Whatever INAC is looking for in these studies, I’m sure INAC will find what they want but the bottom line is, INAC needs to work with Fort Severn First Nation to provide a concrete alternative solution. I do believe Fort Severn has delegated their responsibilities in good faith to meet INAC’s criteria to move forward. I understand the Minister is re-organizing / restructuring the program delivery but this issue has been on the table for some time. INAC needs to stop these delay tactics and acknowledge their responsibilities to the First Nation people.

Respectfully yours,

Kathleen Koostachin, Fort Severn First Nation community member