Tired of Waiting - New School 15 years overdue, residents say..

By Julie Horbal, SUN MEDIA

More than a decade of mouldy school walls, leaking classroom ceilings and such severe overcrowding that a gym locker room became a library has a Manitoba community pleading for help to preserve it's youth.

Chiefs, councillors and community members from Manto Sipi Cree Nation gathered at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs offices in downtown Winnipeg yesterday to seek public support in their fight against the federal Department of Indian Affairs, which promised them a new school in 1992.

QUALITY OF EDUCATION

Since that promise, Chief Roger Ross said, enrolment has dropped, the quality of eduation has declined, and far too many students have been forced to urban centres from the isolated Gods Lake-area reserve to complete anything higher than Grade 8.

The federal government gave a new school the green light 15 years ago, but has put up "bureaucratic delay after delay" since a feasibility report and design were issued in 2005, Ross said.

The $17-million design, which would allow for classes from K-12, was put to the federal treasury board for final approval two years ago, but Ross said it has not yet passed because enrolment numbers keep dropping.

Coun. Michael Yellowback said a new facility would draw the 66 current dropouts back to the classroom.

"If we had a place to put them that wasn't dirty and crowded, they would come right back," Yellowback said.

"The government would put $55 million towards Vancouver's Olympic Games, but can't give us $17 million for a long-term investment in the future of a community."

A spokesman for Indian Affairs said a new school is on the department's current five-year plan, but hasn't yet been prioritized because enrolment projections in the feasibility study weren't close to the actual number in 2006.  The study projected 269 students last year; only 166 full-time students enrolled.

The reserve receives $30,000 per year to maintain the school, the spokesman said.

Ross said the community, 550 kilometers northeast of Winnipeg, will not give up its fight with Indian Affairs and will next invite media to tour the "disgraceful" school to throw light on the problem.

See "The Winnipeg Sun" article.

Winnipeg Sun - Julie Horbel, Sun Media