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Fort Simpson, N.W.T., parents want answers after teacher allegedly hit 8-year-old

Líídlįį Kúę Elementary School in Fort Simpson, N.W.T. (CBC - image credit)
Líídlįį Kúę Elementary School in Fort Simpson, N.W.T. (CBC - image credit)

A family in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., is reeling after an incident at the community's elementary school last month, and community leaders say it harkens back to residential schools.

The alleged incident happened on Jan. 22. That's when Dylan Kakfwi says his partner got a call from the principal of Líídlįį Kúę Elementary School, asking her to come in.

He said the principal, Benjamin Adams, told Kakfwi's partner their eight-year-old son Cashis was backhanded by his teacher, and that the teacher had reported the incident to him.

CBC News is not naming the teacher because charges have not been laid and the Dehcho Divisional Education Council is still investigating.

"I was shocked," Kakfwi's partner wrote in an open letter that the family shared with CBC. "I remember saying, 'What?'"

Kakfwi said Cashis has autism and is non-verbal but, when asked, he signaled to his chest and said, "It hurts, he hit."

The teacher was removed from the school for almost a month as an investigation was launched.

Then last week, in a letter to all Grade 2 and 3 parents, Adams announced the teacher would be returning to school to teach a different class. CBC News has viewed a copy of this letter.

In the letter, Adams wrote: "When serious concerns are brought to our attention, they are addressed immediately.

"This is all to say that the teacher in question will be back to school next week, on Monday February 19, 2024."

CBC asked Dehcho Divisional Education Council superintendent Philippe Brulot about the investigation. He responded that "personnel matters are confidential," and stated he will not be responding further.

The Fort Simpson RCMP also investigated the incident. They said after speaking to all parties involved and reviewing the evidence, "this incident did not meet the threshold for criminal charges."

The police investigation has concluded. When asked about the teacher admitting the incident to the principal, RCMP told CBC News that information was "not consistent with the findings of the investigation."

Parents protest teacher's return

The teacher's return to school this week sparked anger from other parents in Fort Simpson. The day the teacher returned, some kept their children home in protest.

Jerri Brenton, a parent of a child at the school, wrote on a Facebook community page asking parents to come together to support the family and stand up to the education system.

"Reconciliation is the key and needs to be recognized. Let's show these children how much they mean to us, that we believe them and that they deserve so much more," Brenton wrote.

Dehcho First Nations Grand Chief Herb Norwegian said no child should suffer abuse from anyone, especially not a teacher, and that children should feel safe in school.

"You want to make sure that your kids are safe, and that they're getting the proper education, that they're given the right tools so that they could survive in this day and age," he said.

"We love our children, we want to make sure that they get the best kind of care."

He also said Fort Simpson is still healing from residential school trauma. The recent school incident is hurting the whole community, he added.

"That's a pretty serious thing to happen, especially in this day and age, when all of our people and all the parents are just crawling out of the ashes of these residential schools," he said.

Norwegian said he wants the school board to take the incident seriously so it doesn't happen again.

'Lost for words,' says parent of child involved in incident last year

This isn't the first time a teacher at the school has come under scrutiny.

Last year, a photo of Shannon Cazon's four-year-old daughter Aubrey being dragged by a teacher across the parking lot of Líídlįį Kúę Elementary School was circulated within the community.

That incident also prompted an investigation by the school and the teacher was ultimately let go. However, RCMP did not lay charges against the teacher.

Cazon said she's shocked and very disappointed to hear of the recent incident, less than a year after what happened with her daughter.

"I am honestly really lost for words," she said. "How do you effectively change?"

"You just question everything, you question our systems, your question just how much support Indigenous people have in general," she said. "Do we have that support?"

It's been difficult for Cazon to hear about another family now going through trauma similar to what she experienced a year ago.

"It's like reliving everything all over again, hearing them feeling disappointed and lost," she said.

Cazon said it took her a long time to find her voice after her family's experience last year and she vows to support the Kakfwi family any way she can.

Dylan Kakfwi said he wants the teacher in last month's incident to be held accountable for their actions. He would also like to see the educational staff take sensitivity training.

They are seeking advice on how to proceed further, he said. The family feels devalued and silenced but say they are also committed to fighting for their son. Kakfwi's partner wrote that the incident makes her want to fight harder for her son.

"I am his voice, I am the only voice he has," she wrote.