Lac-Barriere: risking your health to go to school

In front of one of the doors of the Kitiganik school in Lac-Barrière (about 150 km south of Val-d’Or), men are busy with wheelbarrows and shovels, protective masks on their faces. They are trying to get rid of the mold that has spread throughout the building.

They are not experts. Just employees of the band council of this Anishinaabe community. Larry Deschenes is the Director of Public Works in the community. It is he who descends into the hole, to remove the mold. It is not they who should go there, he says, pointing to the young workers. It’s up to me to go

Larry Deschenes is the one who goes through the hole to examine the underside of the school and remove the fungus.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Delphine Jung

Photos in support, it reveals the extent of the damage. It is difficult to distinguish mold from sand. But the smell that comes out leaves no doubt. A few days earlier it was even worse, it seems.

The problem of unsanitary education is well known in the community. Even Nicolas Moquin, spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) acknowledges that: the school is outdated

As for the presence of mold, the ministry states that it was informed by the school director on 25 May. It was also on this day that Espaces INDIgenes went to Lac-Barrière to investigate and sent an email to the director requesting an interview.

The mold problem is recurring and occurs every year after the snow has melted.

Two men in work clothes dump sand from one wheelbarrow to the other.

A few Band Council employees are trying to solve the mold problem.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Delphine Jung

Few people dare to talk about it openly for fear of reprisals from the band council. In this small and highly divided community, bringing up the issues can be expensive according to some, such as losing your job.

Indigenous Spaces has been able to collect a dozen testimonials and they all point in the same direction.

They say those who venture within the walls of the school have red eyes, recurring migraines and coughing after a few days.

Parents are complaining on social media, demanding answers and more transparent communication from the school board and principal, Tony Wawatie.

Portrait of a man.

Keyejee Papatie is the son of the former headmaster who passed away last fall.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Delphine Jung

Keyejee Papatie, the son of the former principal of the school, worked in the establishment himself for a time. ans déjà on avait de la moisissure et on a toujours été inquiet pour la santé de nos enfants, mais le conseil n’écoute pas”,”text”:”Il y a 20ans déjà on avait de la moisissure et on a toujours été inquiet pour la santé de nos enfants, mais le conseil n’écoute pas”}}”>20 years ago we already had mold and we were always concerned about the health of our children, but the municipality does not listenhe says in front of his house.

Casey Ratt, the former chef, has children who go to school on their own. He smelled the smell of mold. He calls on the chief to talk to the Canadian government, which is responsible for the community.

The leader must bear our grievancessays Casey Ratt, adding that he, like many, is very concerned about the health of his children.

Portrait of a little girl.

Harmony is one of Casey Ratt’s daughters.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Delphine Jung

The abandoned school

Several parents have decided in recent weeks not to send their children to school to prevent them from breathing this unhealthy air. One of the people interviewed by Espaces Indiens explains that only 15 children come to 80, 85 normally.

In the hallways, no laughter from children, no running toddlers. The classrooms are almost empty. A teacher takes care of two young people.

A school hallway.

The community school has been neglected by children lately.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Delphine Jung

Several closures have been announced by the band council and some teachers decide to continue their classes in another building, such as the one reserved for the daycare.

These recurring closures are of particular concern to an employee of the school and daycare.

She wonders how the children’s education is if they don’t go to school diligently. She is also concerned about possible visits by the Youth Protection Service (DPJ).

DPJ arrive ici et voit que les enfants ne vont pas à l’école, ce ne sera pas la faute des parents, mais de nos leaders. Si on perd nos enfants, je vais m’y opposer, et toute la communauté d’ailleurs”,”text”:”Si la DPJ arrive ici et voit que les enfants ne vont pas à l’école, ce ne sera pas la faute des parents, mais de nos leaders. Si on perd nos enfants, je vais m’y opposer, et toute la communauté d’ailleurs”}}”>As the DYP come here and see that the kids don’t go to school, won’t be the fault of the parents, but our leaders. If we lose our children, I will oppose it, and the whole community for that mattershe said, inflating her chest.

Project aborted

Everyone is waiting for the construction of a new school. Repaired year after year, this one is over 50 years old according to chef Tony Wawatie and the others.

A messy school hallway.

Many community members want a brand new school to be built.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Delphine Jung

In the current building, a plan of what could be the community’s new settlement is curled up in a corner.

This school, whose construction should have started in 2019-2020, has never seen the light of day. There were problems with the ground on which it should have been built, according to the new chief.

Subsequently, the regional director-general, then associated with Indigenous Services, is said to have first demanded that the community be connected to Hydro-Québec’s electricity grid before giving the green light for the construction of a new school.

View of a lake.

The community of Lac-Barrière is considered a semi-isolated community.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Delphine Jung

It is true that Lac-Barrière has only one generator.

The Canadian government is aware of this and is waiting for the community to make a decision about the electricity supply before proceeding with the construction of a new school. The ball is clearly in the court of the band council.

Until the community has made a final decision on the power supply, the construction phase of the project cannot proceed.details the spokesperson of BAG

A youngster who has donned hockey goalkeeper equipment.

The Canadian government is aware of the state of the community’s school and will work with the band council on this.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Delphine Jung

Meanwhile, the ministry is financing repair work. last fall, BAG notably invested $275,000 to repair the roof.

SAC makes sure it works with the community. In addition, an advisory committee, including the education division of Lac-Barrière and the First Nations Quebec-Labrador Education Council (FNEC), has been established to ensure the smooth running of the projectcontinues Nicolas Moquin of BAG

Portrait of a man near a lake.

Chief Tony Wawatie usually blames the government when told about the state of the community school.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Delphine Jung

Interviewees say they know in advance what Chief Wawatie will tell reporters about this. And they are not wrong.

As they thought, the leader indicates that the culprit is the government.

We had a big plan in 1997, but the government withdrew because our ideas were not in line with their colonialist policies.Before departing from the divisions that exist within the community, he assures us about the problems of housing in general and drug use.

People are starting to lose their temper. They keep telling us ‘we have a plan, we have a plan, we have a plan’, but where is that plan? We never saw anything. They’ve been trying to stop for yearslaunches one of the resources of Indigenous Spaces.

A child on a rear bicycle.

Everyone is waiting for the end of the school year to catch a breath.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Delphine Jung

Several respondents also indicated that work is currently underway on: fix the community path and a baseball diamond will be built. They would have preferred this money to go into the construction of a new school.

Workarounds

In the meantime, the chief says he is looking for short-term solutions. As was already the case, the band council tries to find a property so that the children can go there until the mold problem is solved.

On the territory? in Maniwaki?

These are the options on the table, says the chef. Maniwaki is well over an hour’s drive from the community, which would require children to endure a long drive to school.

View of the school with a school bus in front of it.

The Lac-Barrière school has been in existence for over 50 years and has not been renovated since.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Delphine Jung

We ask for mobile homes, but they don’t wantsaid the chief again. She they are the government people.

The Invisible Man

In addition to the returning mold, the new director, James McGrogan, a non-Aboriginal, is never on site. He previously works from Toronto, according to the various testimonials collected.

He’s not from here, he’s a white guy who never comes to meet the team, the kids, he’s never set foot in our school and he’s outside making decisions for everyone.

A quote from Testimony from a source who wished to remain anonymous

Another detail he never introduced himself to the team.

A kid on a skateboard.

Only 15 children attend school since the mold problem has become unbearable.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Delphine Jung

In Lac-Barrière, James McGrogan is mentioned by some the invisible man† Despite our two reminders, he did not respond to our requests for an interview about the state of the school he himself runs.

One of our sources adds: I told the chief we need to hire someone to come to the school, someone to take it to heart, to come and see the mold. I don’t see how he can make decisions without being thereshe says.

The director should be here, on the front line.

A quote from Larry Deschenes
Children in the distance on bicycles.

Many children no longer go to school and spend their day outside.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Delphine Jung

Chief Tony Wawatie is well aware of this situation. We hired him in the midst of a pandemic (Fall 2021, editor’s note). All this time it was hard to get things moving. I take responsibility for his absence from the community. We ask him to comehe said humbly.

Many also criticize the band council and school board for a lack of transparency. They blame the chief for not being present enough in the community, for not getting an answer from him when they ask him questions.

A house in Lac-Barriere.

The chief often points out that in addition to the school’s problems, the community faces a major problem of lack of housing.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Delphine Jung

An inspection report was drawn up after an expert visit to the school. The chief himself spoke about this report in an interview. Employees would have liked to have consulted it. Despite the requests of Aboriginal Spaces, the band council did not send it to us.

In the meantime, Chief Wawatie assures… put pressure on the government.

Some members are seriously considering issuing an ultimatum to Chief and Council: either do something and quickly, or the case goes to trial.

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