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Matawa says it needs $25 million in funding for schools during COVID-19

The supplemental funding is required to ensure students in schools in nine Matawa communities can continue their education safely in September during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Matawa Funding 1
The Matawa Education and Care Centre. (File).

THUNDER BAY - In order to provide proper education this upcoming academic year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Matawa First Nation estimates it will require more than $25 million in supplemental funding for the 2020/2021 academic year.

The Matawa Education Department with First Nations and Education Authorities in the Matawa Tribal Council developed the Matawa Emergency COVID-19 Education Response Plan.

The includes costing to address the needs of students and schools in the nine Matawa communities, including the Matawa Education and Care Centre in Thunder Bay.

According to the plan, supplementary funding of $25,035,927 is needed for all educational facilities in the 2020/2021 academic year, starting in September 2020.

“This funding is required for the Matawa Education and Care Centre to offer safe, supportive and equitable (to the province) education programming and services for our students,” said Brad Battiston, Principal with the Matawa Education and Care Centre, in a media release issued by Matawa First Nations.

The funding would be used for upgrading schools and staff to meet health and safety guidelines related to COVID-19, increasing broadband connectivity, providing mental health supports, increasing land-based learning, increasing student transportation, providing personal protective equipment, providing schools with technological tools, equipment for at-home learning, and professional development on technology-based resources.

The funding required is broken down based on the individual needs of each school.

“In working with the Education Authorities in Matawa, it is clear that they are highly concerned about having no resources that would enable them to safely reopen their schools this September,” said Sharon Nate, Matawa Education Manager. “The education gap cannot be widened once again by jeopardizing school years for our students.”

First Nations groups, including Nishawbe Aski Nation, have raised concerns that the safety of Indigenous students during the pandemic is not included in as part of the government’s economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While school boards in Ontario are currently canvassing parents on options for return to learning delivery models, our Education Authorities at this time barely have that option,” said Chief Rick Allen, Constance Lake First Nation.

“There is no way around it, resources are needed to ensure the safety of our students. Time is running out for First Nations, there is only one and a half months left to the start of school.”

The funding plan will be sent to various levels of government soon and the Matawa Chief’s Council hopes it will be viewed as a priority, as decisions on school operations in September will be based on the response from the government.

“The governments of Canada and Ontario must treat our students the same as all students in the country,” said Chief Cornelius Wabasse, Webequie First Nation.

“This is not the time to focus on any perceived jurisdictional ambiguities between them when it comes to providing resources to educate First Nations students. The only focus during this coronavirus pandemic time is their safety and ensuring they can continue their studies.”

Doug Diaczuk

About the Author: Doug Diaczuk

Doug Diaczuk is a reporter and award-winning author from Thunder Bay. He has a master’s degree in English from Lakehead University
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