After more than a decade of lobbying for a new school, Wabaseemoong First Nation is opening the doors of its new Mizhakiiwetung Memorial School.
“The students are very excited, emotionally charged and happy to going to the new school,” said principal Ron McDonald. "It’s an investment for the community and we’re looking forward to having more graduates."
Since 1996, the community – located 95 kilometres northwest of Kenora – has been urging the federal government to replace their existing school, which was plagued with closures due to structural damage, which was becoming a safety hazard for students, said McDonald. The building had become dilapidated and suffered a lot of structural damage, and the air quality was a concern. It also had issues with the furnace breaking down, and its obsolete design required extensive time and money to repair.
The entire community rallied to have a new school built, and McDonald said it was the students who were protesting the loudest about poor quality of education in their community.
In 2001, a handful of youth marched to Parliament Hill and demanded a new school to the face of the minister of Indian Affairs. Nearly a decade later the federal government granted the community $25-million for the project through the Canada Economic Action Plan.
The new 4,500-square-metre school contains 16 classrooms and can accommodate up to 460 Kindergarten to Grade 12 students. It also has an outdoor hockey rink, baseball diamond, multi-purpose track and gymnasium equipped with a stage.
“As the principal, I’m excited about the new opportunities for the students and the access to more technology,” McDonald said. “It’s a new era for the commuity.”
McDonald said the school is “named after one of our great former chiefs, the late Roy McDonald, who worked tirelessly for our community. Mizhakiiwetung was his spirit name, which means thunderbird.” From the air, the school is shaped like an eagle.
The community celebrated the grand opening on Oct. 12 as dignitaries, community members and students marched from the old school to the new building.
While the school's completion is still a couple months away, students are preparing to begin classes in the new facility on Oct. 24.
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