New high school building 'great milestone' for Mattagami First Nation

·3 min read

History was made in Mattagami First Nation last week when the community received its brand new classroom building.

It's the first dedicated building for high school students in the community.

For a Keewaytinook Internet High School (KiHS) teacher Ian Vaithilingam, this is a "great milestone for education" in the community.

“It’s a great achievement in the history of the community in terms of education,” he said.

KiHS is a program allowing First Nations students to earn their high school diplomas while staying in their communities. The Mattagami First Nation program started running in September 2018.

There are currently 21 active high school students from Grade 9 to 12.

Equipped with internet, air conditioning and heating, the new one-room building will have two washrooms and a kitchen for a cooking program.

“It’s going to be an open concept, so we’ll be able to rearrange the space depending on what we need to do with it,” Vaithilingam said.

Students are expected to move into their new classroom by the end of November.

When the program started, the KiHS program ran on the small stage in the community centre. It later moved to the fire hall where they’re still studying.

“The fire hall was better. It was our own classroom but things got interesting whenever there was a fire call,” Vaithilingam said with a chuckle. “You have 10 firefighters bust into the lobby of our classroom building, getting ready, sirens going. We had a good view of the firefighters but not always great for learning.”

Chief and council who funded the project were supportive, Vaithilingam said.

Mattagami Chief Chad Boissoneau said education is very important in the community.

"It's a good project. I'm glad it was well accepted by everybody," he said.

For some First Nations students, it's hard to finish high school for various reasons, so the chief and council wanted to provide them with an opportunity to have a proper education from home, the chief said adding some students still wanted to go to high school in Timmins.

"They had friends there. It's important to be involved in mainstream society if you're going to work in that area or going to post-secondary," he said.

The prefabricated building arrived in the community last week. According to Boissoneau, the building with the supplies cost about $500,000. The contractors and Mattagami Public Works are finishing work on hooking up water, electricity, septic and internet.

"It's a good building. It'll serve its purpose. If there ever comes a day where we have no use for it, there's always a need for those types of buildings," Boissoneau said.

As the KiHS program grows and more students join the program, the new classroom would allow for a greater variety of activities, Vaithilingam said. It will also allow for a dedicated space to store land-based gear, sewing machines, arts and crafts, electronics and equipment.

“It will allow us to have better programming for our students, more dedicated space to be able to do specialized activities,” he said.

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com

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