Fort Severn

Election results in Fort Severn for chief and council

Chief Roy Gray was re-elected for another term as Fort Severn's leader. Dennis Bluecoat takes on the role as Deputy Chief. New councillors include Connie Thomas, Kenny Thomas and Mike Bluecoat.

Congratulations to everyone who ran for election and best wishes and lots of successes to the Fort Severn Chief and Council for the upcoming term.

Fort Severn school building remains closed as another study required by INAC

The May 19 issue of Wawatay headlines "INAC insists on fourth study in effort to save mouldy school"

The reporter included an interview with the local MP, Roger Valley who clearly understands Fort Severn's concerns with the present school and its location with his comments in a side bar article about his visit to Fort Severn.

INAC insists on fourth study in effort to save mouldy school by Joyce Hunter

One study? Two studies? Maybe three studies will do. So far, Fort Severn has commissioned three studies in its bid to convince government bureaucrats one of its buildings is no longer safe to use. Wasaho School closed last spring because of mould contamination. Throughout the school year, Fort Severn’s leaders have continued to negotiate with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada for school facilities for its kindergarten to Grade 8 students. Despite the community’s attempts to get “code compliant” temporary school facilities as a short-term fix and a funding commitment from INAC for a permanent new school, INAC is moving ahead with plans to conduct another study. George Kakekaspan, Fort Severn’s band projects manager, said INAC rejected the community’s proposals in favor of seeking the completion of an independent study on whether the community’s mould-contaminated school could be salvaged. “Fort Severn First Nation has commissioned three previous studies (on the now closed school) which identified health and safety concerns,” says a band council resolution, which grudgingly supports INAC’s proposal to fund a fourth study on the building. The 79 students, meanwhile, were reassigned to a home school program for the 2004-2005 school year because there were no alternate safe buildings for them to be schooled in, Kakekaspan said. “The parents want a proper school for their children,” he said. Tony Purdori, communications officer for INAC, said the department is interested in the independent study because there were such a wide range in estimates previously provided by different firms on the closed school. “A consultant was hired by the community who recommended that the school could be remediated,” Purdori said. “The First Nation got a second estimate (condemning the school).” Because there was such a wide range in the estimates, Purdori said the department felt compelled to pursue an independent study. Kakekaspan, on the other hand, calls this pursuit “a waste of time.” He explained the studies varied so widely in estimates because one, done by a firm specializing in indoor environmental pollutants, spoke only to the mould affecting the school. Kakekaspan also said the other two studies took into account the structural integrity of the school in addition to the mould. Kakekaspan said both studies condemned the building when structural integrity and mould were both factored into the study. “The second study, done by a contracting firm rather than an engineering firm in January of 2004, did not examine the fact the septic field is gone, the floor is rotten making it prone to collapse, or that the heating, ventilation, and recovery systems need to be replaced,” he said, adding there is a long list of structural problems with the school, which makes it unsafe. Kakekaspan said the study’s cost estimate failed to include local resources such as local labour, equipment, and accommodations, along with the non-construction costs associated with any project. “In 1999-2000, MCW/AGE Power Consultants out of Winnipeg, which did the original study, basically condemned the building,“ Kakekaspan said. The study is not even being mentioned by INAC. “In May 2004, Cook Engineering did the third study and that report condemned the building also. This study was a very detailed study that would address all concerns and was not mould specific.” A contractor has been named to carry out the independent assessment. Kakekaspan said the contractor will arrive in Fort Severn June 14. At that time, the school will be re-opened for a thorough examination and a report filed when the study is complete. Once the study is complete, INAC will know if it can be remediated. The community has petitioned Indian Affairs saying all remediation efforts will “ultimately prove unsuccessful” because the present site, which is located on top of a natural spring, is “far too ideal for mould growth.” In addition, no consultant, contractor or government agency will provide a ‘No Health Risk’ stamp of approval after remediation, Chief Roy Gray said. “They couldn’t guarantee any work that they do,” he said. “Also, we’ve had parents tell us they won’t bring their children into that school even after it’s remediated.”

Wawatay News Vol.32 #10 (May 19, 2005)

Fort Severn school closure reaches the Ontario legislature during Question Period

On March 30, Howard Hampton asked the Ontario Minister of Education two questions in the Ontario Legislature about what the Ontario government is doing to help the children in Fort Severn obtain the education they are entitled to as citizens of this province.

Click here to read the hansard ... Here is the text of the two questions asked by Howard Hampton, Leader of the New Democratic Party and MP for the Kenora-Rainy River Riding.


Mr. Howard Hampton (Kenora-Rainy River): My question is for the Minister of Education. Fort Severn is the most northerly community in Ontario. The school in that First Nations community is closed for public health reasons. Toxic mould is found virtually everywhere in the school building. As a result, children and their families have been forced to move hundreds of kilometres to communities like Sioux Lookout or Thunder Bay just so their children can attend school and get an education. But many in the community can't afford to move to Thunder Bay or Sioux Lookout, so their children are now doing without.

These students are citizens of Ontario. They need access to education. You are the Minister of Education for Ontario. What will you do to help these students receive the education they deserve?

Hon. Gerard Kennedy (Minister of Education): I know the member opposite, and no member of this House, would want to politic with the future of those particular children, who are facing more than the average challenge of students in this province.

The member opposite is fully aware that there's a federal government responsibility and a dispute in that community. What I should say is that the education ministers of Canada recently had a meeting in Toronto and have decided to make aboriginal education, notwithstanding any level of government's ostensible and constitutional responsibility, part of their business; in fact, one of their three top priorities. There is work going on right now with my office and the offices of other education ministers to try to find a way that we can collaborate.

I want to assure the member opposite that we agree there is no excuse for any school-aged student in this province not to be getting a quality education. We will work, and we invite the member opposite to work with us, to find a resolution wherever that is taking place. But we have initiated that through the federal government, through our colleague ministers. We are looking into our responsibilities. It's certainly in our sights, and we will help find a solution for the situation he's describing.


Mr. Hampton: The minister should know that, yes, the federal government has primary responsibility here, but the federal government is dithering on the issue of building a new school. Meanwhile, these students have to follow the Ontario curriculum. They have to pass Ontario literacy tests and other standardized tests, just as children all across Ontario have to pass those tests. They are citizens of Ontario, just as someone who lives in Toronto or Ottawa or Thunder Bay is a citizen of Ontario.

I'm asking you to do two things: Will you get in touch with the federal ministers responsible and say to them, "It's not acceptable in Ontario that children go without an education just because they're aboriginal children"? And, in the interim, will you help those families who've had to move to Thunder Bay or Sioux Lookout in order that their children can receive an education? Will you do those two simple things, Minister?

Hon. Mr. Kennedy: Again, I think, at root, one of the most serious challenges we have in this country is the future of aboriginal children. The education system that should be giving them a boost forward -- and I think everyone is in agreement -- is not doing that to a sufficient degree.

I would say to the member opposite that when it comes to these particular kids, more is required than what you have offered. What you have offered, frankly, isn't about their specific needs. There's a problem to be solved. I ask the member opposite to lend his good offices to untangling the mess in that particular community, and I offer to do the same. They deserve a school in their home community, they deserve not to be dislocated and they deserve not to get ensnarled in machinations, whether it's the federal bureaucracy or provincial politicians. So I say to you, member opposite, that these kids need to have a direct involvement from the federal government. That is their responsibility. However, there is a need for third parties, wherever they can come from, to actually roll up their sleeves and help solve this problem.

We are providing additional resources to the communities where First Nations people are receiving an education, and we'll continue to do that.

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

Industry Canada official visits Fort Severn

Industry Canada’s Peter Czerny and KO’s Brian Walmark are talking to people in Fort Severn about the impact that C-Band is having o­n their community... The two are meeting with Deputy Chief Brian Crowe this morning and with KiHS students this afternoon... More details to come...

CBC's the National covers Washaho school closure in Fort Severn

The National news on CBC television sent a crew to Fort Severn to document the challenges facing the community as a result of the closure of the local Washaho School due to mold contamination and structural problems. Fernando Oliveria, a former Fort Severn KiHS teacher, created a web page documenting all the coverage that this national story is generating. Fernando is now teaching the on-line Grade 8 supplementary courses that the Fort Severn Grade 8 students are using to support their home schooling experience. He writes ....

"I recorded the CBC news report a week ago (Dec 18) and added it to a page containing links to all the other media reports. Not sure if it's of any use, but I thought it might help to keep the story alive. Feel free to pass it along if you think it might be useful. It could be developed into some sort of online petition or just a site for quick assess to information. If you have any changes/additions, please send them along.  Here's the page:"

Crisis situation in Fort Severn results in letters to Prime Minister and INAC

The situation in Fort Severn continues to deteriorate as more families feel the need to temporarily re-locate to urban centres so their children can attend school. While some families are moving out of the communities other residents continue to try to make the best of a very difficult environment. Using a combination of temporary facilities and home schooling, the teachers and students are trying to ensure that the students who remain in Fort Severn do not lose their school year.

Following up on previous correspondence with INAC, letters have now been sent to the Prime Minister of Canada requesting his assistance in resolving this situation in Fort Severn and inviting him to visit the community. A copy of this letter is available by clicking here. As well, the actual letter that was sent to INAC in response to their two previous letters can also be read by clicking here.

The links to other newspaper stories and information about this situation can be found by clicking here to read the Nov 28 K-News story.

CBC television crew visits Fort Severn to document school closure

Two members of CBC television flew from Sioux Lookout on Thursday, Dec 9 to Fort Severn to meet with community leaders, parents and students concerning their school closure. The local school had to be closed since June due to severe mould contamination.

Proposals by the community leadership over this past summer to address this situation are on hold as INAC insists on a third engineering assessment to determine how this situation should be addressed. The chiefs from the Assembly of First Nations passed a resolution during their National Assembly in Charlottetown in July (click here to read AFN resolution 62/2004) directing among other things "that Indian Affairs begin working in partnership with Fort Severn leadership to develop an interim and long term strategy to ensure local educational facilities are put in place in that community."

Click here to read Wawatay's lastest news brief on the Fort Severn School closure.

Click here to read the last KNews story with copies of the INAC letters to the community.

Fort Severn children without a safe and healthy education environment

The Washaho School in Fort Severn First Nation is contaminated with severe mould growth due in part to INAC’s decision to build the existing building over a spring (click here to read Wawatay September 9 news story). Elders informed INAC officials of this potential problem before construction began over twenty years ago. Now the school has been closed since June 2004 as a result of a Health Canada order to remove everyone from this building. So as INAC officials want to continue to study the problem, Fort Severn children go without a school facility. The mould continues to grow and spread throughout the school because no one is able to go near the condemned facility. Click here to see September K-News story.

The local leadership and community members completed their own feasibility study during the summer at their own expense. The study recommended removing the school building and constructing a new facility. Bringing in temporary classrooms was planned for this year’s barge as financing and plans for the new school were completed. Then INAC decided that they would do their own study, thus preventing any of the community’s plans from proceeding. The INAC funded consultant determined that the old school should be renovated against the wishes of the local leadership and parents. As a compromise INAC is now demanding a third study by an independent body. Click here to read Wawatay story -Remediation won’t solve mould problem.

The community was then forced to use existing band owned buildings to accommodate some scheduled classroom activities that support a limited form of home schooling for the students as a temporary measure. These five buildings were build by the band to serve specific local needs. Now these functions are being put aside so the children can get a limited level of support they require to complete some of their work for this school year.

On November 24, a letter was sent to Fort Severn’s leaders from INAC (click here to read the letter) indicating a limited amount of funding would be made available to convert these five community owned buildings to classroom space with sufficient resources to address health and safety issues. The same letter states that INAC will continue with the third feasibility to remediate the existing school facility against the wisdom of the local community. The letter also states that INAC will not contribute towards the recommended non-safety items required for educational space nor restore the five community service buildings to their original purpose after they are no longer needed as classrooms.

Another letter arrived on December 2 from the Ontario Regional Director, Robert Howsam restating that INAC requires an independent assessment (click here to read this letter). Fort Severn sent their official response to these letters from INAC on December 7. Click here to read the Fort Severn response

Even though Fort Severn requires a new school as soon as possible due to the age and condition of the existing facility, INAC is insisting on yet another study that will require spending over a million dollars to "address the mould contamination and structural safety issues" of the existing facility. It is well understood that once renovations take place on an existing facility then the community priority position for a new facility is affected on INAC’s school construction program. Previous correspondence from INAC indicated that this would not happen but that has not been the case in the past.

Fort Severn needs a new school. The community and the families tried to work with INAC to have temporary classrooms in place for the start of the school year. The children and teaching staff are struggling to deliver an educational program that they hope will help them with their studies. But the situation is both depressing and dangerous for everyone. As INAC acknowledges in their letter, they need to spend over $400,000 just to address "safety / health issues" in these non-classroom environments that the community is using for interim classes.

The Auditor General notes in her latest report that INAC officials are not clear about what their role is when it comes to providing educational services in First Nations. In the case of Fort Severn it seems very clear. They will not listen to the community members and leaders. They will use policies and services that seem to create more delays that prevent the children from accessing a normal and safe school environment. Some people are feeling that the department's real agenda is to remove the people from their traditional homelands and lifestyles.

Large Fossil Found near Fort Severn

The fossil is 10 inches long and 2 1/2 inches in diameter.  It was portruding out of the rock, it was embedded in limestone and it appears the rest of it was going into the rock, further still.

Click here to see more pictures

If anyone knows what it could be please contact,