A crowd of Six Nations’ Kawenní:io/Gawení:yo school parents and supporters met Crown Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller with signs and concerns their children are still without a school after three decades of working for one during his Six Nations tour Wednesday May 25, 2022. (Photo by Jim C. Powless)
By Bree Duwyn
SIX NATIONS OF THE GRAND RIVER-Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller disappointed Six Nations community members after telling a crowd outside the Kawenní:io/Gawení:yo Private School, there would be no funding for the development and building of a new immersion school.
Minister Miller dropped by the school at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena (ILA) Wednesday (May 25th) as part of what appeared to be an impromptu mini-tour of Six Nations. The school has been working for 17 years to raise a needed $30 million to build what would be the only Mohawk and Cayuga immersion school at Six Nations, the most populated First Nation community in Canada.
Minister Miller toured the current school rooms where he was shown the need for more space and hazards including wire hanging from the ceiling and lack of running water in the kitchen Turtle Island News, who was not allowed to tour the school, was told. Only mainstream media was allowed to tour the school. Outside the children’s playground has weeds growing in the play area.
After the tour Minister Miller found himself challenged by a peaceful, yet entrenched, crowd of parents, guardians and supporters of the school that had gathered in the ILA parking lot.
“This isn’t necessarily what I expected, but it’s probably what I deserve.” Minister Miller said after exiting the building to find a crowd had assembled .
Many were seen clutching makeshift signs, demanding there be more done to support the teaching of languages within Six Nations.
But Miller said he wasn’t going to make “false promises.”
“This is something that is a project that you’ve fought long for and I’m only starting to fight for,” said Minister Miller who claimed he did not want to make “false promises”
The Kawenní:io/Gawení:yo Board of Directors and parents have been working for almost two decades to build the school.
Over the years the immersion language school has received $2 million in donations from the Six Nations Elected Council (SNEC) who also bought land on Tuscarora and Fourth Line and donated it to build the school on.
Minister Miller said he will fight within the federal government for issues regarding education in Indigenous communities.
“I will wear the responsibility of that failure should it come to fruition. I know that this is something that should have been funded 30 years ago,” he said.
Minister Miller said he plans to return to Six Nations while working alongside the school board but the promise was met with hesitant, scattered applause.
In response to the minister’s speech, Elected Chief Mark Hill acknowledged the importance and vitality of language, as well as the educators of children.
“It may not be the words we want to hear right now, it might have been a little bit better for cutting the ribbon to a new school,” said Elected Chief Hill. “I think it’s the steps that we have to take in order to get to that point.”
He said it was an important issue for the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council and SNEC to work together on.
Ruby Jacobs, the school’s board chair, expressed her disappointment.
“We can’t control the future, we thought we could today,” said Jacobs. “The Creator wants us to carry on. We’ve got seven generations to worry about. We’re here. We’re still here, that’s what’s important.”
She said they did manage to move one step forward.
“We’ve got some good news that our design brief was approved. That’s a big step,” said Jacobs. “We can thank Minister Miller for that, so that makes us move along the pathway of approval.”
Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) updated its School Space Accommodations Standards in 2021, which forced the board to update the architectural plans for the school pushing the cost up $1 million.
With the design brief approved, the school build project can begin land development.
A mother of a Kawenní:io/Gawení:yo student gripped a handmade sign, pacing along the freshly dispersed crowd once the address had come to a close.
“He’s (Minister Miller) disappointed everybody with zero promises,” she said, visibly upset as Minister Miller stood a few feet away.
“I’d love to know what the schools look like in his neighbourhood. This is a punishment and they’re punishing kids,” she said.
Kawenní:io/Gawení:yo. principal Tehota’keràton Dr. Jeremy Green, said the school is making a difference.
“What you all need to know is that this place, Kawenní:io/Gawení:yo, is making a difference. It’s making a difference in the lives of our people,” said Tehota’keràton Dr. Jeremy Green, “Our people are speaking and using our languages, carrying on our customs, traditions and ceremonies,” he said.
The school has leased several different buildings over the three decades it has existed, some of which were old school buildings built in the 1800s and early 1900s. Those buildings were all condemned and forced the school to keep moving.
Right now, the school runs programming for 150 students from kindergarten to grade 12 in leased office space above the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena
The school’s website says “in 1994, a census of speakers indicated 138 speakers of Gayogohó:nǫ and 74 speakers of Kanien’kéha at Six Nations. As of 2020, there are less than 30 native speakers of Gayogohó:nǫ (the Cayuga language) and less than 5 native speakers of Kanien’kéha (the Mohawk language) remaining at Six Nations.” the goal of the school is to immerse students in the language and culture, while also teaching them to navigate the current society.
SNEC put together a team in 2021 to work on petitioning the federal government for funding after learning the school was at the bottom of a 22 year Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) waiting list for school building funding and repairs.
Councillor Nathan Wright suggested, last year, that funding from ISC may never come in full because the minister is bound by policy and regulations. It is not an easy task to bump someone up the list and said funding a piecemeal funding approach may prove more successful. A 22 year waiting list, those are First Nations with needs as well,” Councillor Wright said. “I think we here need to go in… get the right people in the room with a good team and start identifying what separates us in terms of Haudenosaunee people and what’s going to get us higher on that list. The second piece is not necessarily looking at this from a competition standpoint, but look at other areas they can fund this from that piecemeal approach.” -With Turtle Island News files-See Turtle Island News coming edition for more.