“With this new environment and new start, we’ll begin to bring back our language into the classrooms,” said Chief Ozawanimki. “Our cultural teachings are a significant part of understanding who we are and of getting to know our history and culture.
“This is an opportunity for us to bring in those teachings — and an opportunity for us to be well.”
The school will be located next to the Elders Eagle Lodge – an ideal spot to ensure classes have exposure to language, stories, teachings and wisdom of the First Nation’s language-speakers and knowledge-keepers.
FNWSC welcomes the news
The news is welcomed by the First Nations with Schools Collective (FNWSC), which advocates for First Nations to have full control over their education systems.
Policy for funding education systems on First Nations is led by the federal government and doesn't include school capital, noted Leslee White-Eye, Structural Readiness Co-ordinator for FNWSC. As a result, many First Nations schools are in dire need of repair or replacement.
“New schools in First Nation communities are blessings like no other,” she said. “They can be a beacon of the promise of a self-determined education system as defined by the families of children and youth who will attend.”
Sagamok's current structure was built in 1985 and has no gymnasium or lunch area.
At nearly 3,000-square-metres, it will be 40 per cent larger than the existing Biidaaban Kinoomaagegamik school and will include a gym, cafeteria, library, science room and functional spaces for high-needs learners to thrive.
Groundbreaking set for April 6, 2022
With a nearly $25-million investment from Indigenous Services Canada, the groundbreaking is set for April 6, and Ozawanimki said students should be in the school in the fall of 2023.
At one time Sagamok was recognized for its Kindergarten-to-Grade 3 language programming, but in the 1990s, there was a move toward bringing on teachers that had provincial credentials rather than relying on community speakers to pass on the language, Ozawanimki said.
“We were looking at the colonial approach as progress at the time … a transition toward mainstream in our curriculum and program delivery,” he said. “But it’s the teachings that are a significant part of understanding who we are and that will allow us to get to know our history and culture. These are things we can’t take for granted.”
Like other First Nations, Sagamok is concerned about losing its language, and working to revitalize it. Sagamok estimates that nearly 100 per cent of community members over 55 speak Anishinaabemowin.
"Our future depends on promoting an environment conducive to learning in a way that reflects both modern curriculum and Anishnawbe Aadziwin, who we are as a people," Ozawanimki said earlier in a statement announcing the news.
Sagamok is a leader in life-long learning
Sagamok’s culture-based summer camps have helped establish the First Nation’s reputation as a “leader in lifelong-learning that is culturally based and centred in community, said White-Eye.
“I can’t wait to see what their new learning spaces will become in terms of culture-based learning.”
Designer's drawing of future school, to be located next to Elders Eagle Lodge