THUNDER BAY -- Alaini Sakchekapo thinks a living centre for transplanted students attending Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School is long overdue.
While still in the advocacy stage, the proposed multi-million dollar project took a small step forward on Wednesday with a symbolic $2,100 donation from representatives from the Ontario Public Services Employees Union.
“I think a living centre is greatly needed and I’m grateful for the money that was given to us,” said the 15-year-old Grade 11 student.
“For one thing we’d be living all together, instead of being scattered all over the place.”
The plan, long discussed, was reinforced earlier this year when a series of recommendations were made following an inquiry into the deaths of seven First Nation youths who died while attending, or had just finished, school in Thunder Bay.
Students from remote reserves at present are sent to the city for high school and are billeted with families throughout the community.
It’s not the ideal situation, Alaini said, adding she was lucky and had an older sister who had already gone through the move.
Having a centralized residence, either on the Confederation College campus or adjacent to DFC itself would make the transition that much smoother for everyone, she said.
“I feel like I would have been a lot more comfortable making the transition because there would have already been people here who had made the transition and know how it feels to be around here,” Alaini said.
Lise Dampier, shop steward with OPSEU local 736 and the union’s treasure within its Indigenous circle, said the issues facing DFC students was desperate and members wanted to do something to help start the ball rolling.
“It started out as a gift basket to help raise funds. It turned into all the different locals stepping up to the plate and donating funds to the cause,” Dampier said.
“The children need a place that they can call home and be all together, with common interests, because they’ve been taken away from their families in our Northern communities and they’re scattered all over the City of Thunder Bay, living in homes with strangers. It’s a healthier environment that we keep our Indigenous students together as one big family.”
School officials said there is no timeline to build the long-discussed facility, as neither the provincial nor federal governments has yet to commit any funding to the project.