Walls crumble, mould infects First Nation school - North Caribou Lake First Nation says students suffer injustice in education funding
Jody Porter CBC News Posted: Apr 19, 2012
North Caribou Lake First Nation resident Lakota Pans loves going to school, but her learning environment is hindered by mouldy floors and crumbling walls. (Jody Porter/CBC)
Lakota Pans loves school. Math is the 13-year-old's favourite subject.
"It's great. I just love getting my education," Pans said, standing on the hill outside her school in North Caribou Lake First Nation.
Education director Saul Williams said he feels helpless when it comes to fixing the school in his community. (Jody Porter/CBC)
Education director Saul Williams said he'd like to do better for eager students like Pans and the 140 other children in his community, located 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay.
"I feel helpless," he said. "I can't do anything."
That sense of helplessness comes from a federal government funding cap that sees schools on reserve receive about half the per-student funding of provincial schools.
Williams said the results are evident in North Caribou Lake's school: mould mushrooms bloom under the urinals in the boy's bathroom, pungent black mould grows under the carpet in an elementary classroom and the outside walls of the school are weak.
"It's going to cave in," Williams said, as he pressed on the wall, revealing a gap between the wall and the window frame big enough to see outside. "The whole wall moves when you push on it."
Pungent black mould grows under the carpet in an elementary classroom on North Caribou Lake First Nation. (Jody Porter/CBC)
Williams said school officials do their best to clean up the mould on a regular basis, but major repairs are needed to make the building a healthy place for children. A federal allotment of only $6,000 per student doesn't leave any room in the budget to renovate or rebuild, Williams added.
Aside from the physical structure, Williams said the limited federal funding doesn't account for special needs support. He said there was money in 2007 to assess the students' learning abilities — 76 per cent were diagnosed as having special needs, including speech impediments and autism.
But when Williams developed a plan to help the special needs students and presented it to Aboriginal Affairs, he said he was told there was "no money, we can't help you, you have to do it with what you have.”
"It's not fair," Williams said. "And it doesn't help."
CBC News asked Aboriginal Affairs for a response to this story. A spokesperson for the department said he's working on that request.
As for Lakota Pans, she'll need to leave the community next year if she wants to attend high school; classes here only go to Grade 8. But she said, once she's done, she'll return to work at the band office or the post office.
"Because it's my home," she said.