Lake St. Martin First Nation is one step closer to getting a new school after a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday.
"Today means a lot for the community," said Lake St. Martin councillor Christopher Traverse, standing on the future site of the school.
"We're going forward with a school and our community's just been used to [having] trailers for the past 10 years. So going forward, this is a brand new school and it's going to be gorgeous," Traverse said.
"It's the heart of the community."
More than 1,200 residents of the First Nation were forced out of their homes after a flood in 2011. The vast majority are now living in Winnipeg, and many spent several years in hotels before settling into private or rental homes.
The community officially signed off on construction of the $18-million school in March, partnering with PM Associates, Stantec Architects, Penn-Co Construction and the federal government.
The school is set to open in 2019 and will provide classes for kindergarten to Grade 12 students for the first time in the community.
Prior to the flood, Lake St. Martin students had to make do with classes held in trailers, and only kindergarten to Grade 8 classes were provided on-reserve. Students had to go elsewhere to get their high school education.
In addition to the school, Chief Adrian Sinclair said he expects around 90 new homes nearby to be ready to live in by November.
'For the children, their future'
Sinclair called the groundbreaking a historic occasion, but said he wished it had happened sooner. After six years of displacement, he says many community members have died. Adjusting to life in the city has been tough on the youth, he says.
Bringing Lake St. Martin kids back to their home community is an important step, Sinclair says, and he's happy they won't have to leave the First Nation again for school.
"[The school is] going to bring them more curriculum, more things, more programs, and they're going to get better teachers and it's going to be good for the children, because this is for the children, their future," he said.
"This is for the children that are going to become chiefs, councillors. That's what's going to happen [with] this school."