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Emergency COVID-19 funding needed for First Nations schools: MPP

In open letter to Ontario education minister, Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa says First Nations schools deprived of COVID-19 funding flowing to those under province's jurisdiction
Sol Mamakwa
Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa is calling for emergency funding to ensure First Nations schools are prepared to operate amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

SIOUX LOOKOUT, Ont. – Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa has taken up a call for the province to provide emergency funding for First Nations schools, which he warns are not financially prepared to safely welcome students back to school in September.

In an open letter addressed to education minister Stephen Lecce, Mamakwa calls on the Ontario government to “transcend jurisdictional ambiguity” in order to ensure First Nations students don’t fall behind.

“The options you have provided Ontario public schools between returning to full time in-class instruction and online-only learning leaves out students in fly-in First Nations communities across Ontario’s far North,” Mamakwa writes.

The letter echoes concerns first raised by the Matawa Chiefs Council earlier this month.

The group, which represents nine First Nations to the north and east of Thunder Bay, said the federal government had not earmarked funding for First Nations schools to adapt to the pandemic, while schools under provincial jurisdiction were receiving millions in aid.

In his letter, Mamakwa said the schools are in dire need of emergency funding to cover expenses including expanded internet access, PPE supplies, upgrading of facilities, and curriculum modifications.

Some First Nations lack internet speeds necessary to meet the provincial standard of one megabit per second per student, leaving them unable to access resources such as the province's Learn At Home online portal, the Matawa chiefs say.

Mamakwa said the lack of consideration for First Nations students is an example of how systemic racism leaves Indigenous youth behind.

“This exclusion of First Nations students from your government’s education plans is part of the systemic racism that Indigenous young people are forced to cope with,” he said. “That systemic racism must end. Our learners deserve access to the same level of technology and educational supports whether they attend a provincial or a First Nations school.”