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What began as a request for a new school in 1974 was finally realized when Indian and Northern Affairs gave formal approval for the $2.3 million K-7 school only days before the ceremony. The first shovel full of dirt was turned by Red Pheasant Chief Larry Wuttunee, Band elder Elmer Wuttunee, Battlefords Meadow Lake MP John Gormley and INAC District Manager Val Kawood.
"It took this long for someone to hear us," Chief Wuttunee told about 60 people gathered at the alcohol treatment centre on the reserve. "This is an historic day, a dream come true for all of us. The school will be the centre of our community."
Construction of the 1,367 square metre wood frame and concrete masonry structure began at the end of October. It will contain a stucco teepee front, gymnasium, administration area, resource room, home economics room and seven classrooms. Architects are Akin, Olfert, Dressel, Harder, Burnyeat Ltd. while the general contractors are Stuart Olson.
Band education coordinator Michael Baptiste, who has been one of those pushing for approval since the early days, said some Band members openly wondered whether formal approval would ever be given as a result of unfulfilled previous promises by the federal government.
"Politically the doors were always closed on the project," he says blaming the delay on changes in federal governments and Indian Affairs Ministers.
"No definite reason was ever given why our approvals were dropped but Indian Affairs in North Battleford had agreement with the urban provincial schools that seats for our students be filled until 1993", he added.
He says he still has no idea why the department changed its mind and made the school a priority.
The old school, which currently holds 45 K-6 students, was condemned a few years ago because of its poor construction. As a result concern was expressed about the building's poor learning environment. Baptiste says a majority of Band parents support the school and are expected to send their children there instead of the Cando and North Battleford schools. He anticipates this trend to peak when a future addition is built to accommodate grades 8-12.
Some of the major benefits of the new facility will be the disappearance of multi-grade classrooms and the removal of financial pressures placed on band parents in provincial schools, Baptiste points out.
Pointing to the importance of education as a treaty-right, Dutch Lerat, FSIN 3rd Vice-Chief, said the new school will not only benefit young Band members but also adults who decide to return to school.
Student representative Lori Wuttunee said the new school will "make an impact on the lives of students by making them feel at home. Now we tend not to participate in extra curricular activities at other schools because we don't feel part of the school."
Construction of the school is underway in the core of the reserve less than one kilometre from the recently constructed alcohol treatment centre. Completion is slated for the fall of next year.