Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 27, 2007
RAE LAKES - An extra $3.05 Million has been approved by the GNWT for the expansion of the Jean Wetrade school in Gameti.
Plans for the expansion, which would allow secondary students to attend school in Gameti instead of being sent to Behchoko, were put on hold last year after the Department of Public Works and Services didn't receive any bids for the tender.
When Jackson Lafferty, MLA for Monfwi, visited the community to introduce the RCMP in mid-June, the community presented him with a stack of letters expressing concern over the delayed expansion of the school.
Lafferty received letters from Jimmy Arrowmaker and Celine Gone who had to take their daughter out of school to bring her home from Behchoko.
"She continues to struggle without the love and support of her family. She was always a very good student when she was in Gameti... Now she struggles and we are worried about her finishing school."
Among the dozens of letters was one strong message repeated in almost every one, that the students have a right to attend high school in their own community.
"One of the things we wanted to do was to put our voice in writing," said James Robinson, principal of the Jean Wetrade school.
Robinson said the community should expect a higher rate of success with the students being able to study in their own community.
The letters, and Lafferty's push for the additional funding, came after the news that the project would either be delayed, or they would look into providing temporary portables instead of the originally planned expansion for two new classrooms, one culture room, and a gymnasium.
"We simply said no, we don't accept that," said Lafferty. "I'm glad the government finally gave in, but it took a bit of time."
To help convince the GNWT, the Tlicho government decided two weeks ago to contribute $500,000 towards the project. Behchoko Chief Leon Lafferty said the money will come from various Tlicho businesses in the region, with $125,000 coming from each community.
For parents like Mary-Adele and Eddie Chocolate, the extra money means she won't have to see two more of her children sent away to Behchoko to attend high school. The two have already seen three of their children go away for school.
"We have so many young kids who go to school in Behchoko," said Eddie, who is the sub-chief of Gameti. "When they leave we don't know if they're taken care of."
Now two of her children Eleasha Chocolate, 12, and Davina Chocolate, 11, should be able to stay in Gameti if the money is enough to attract a contractor.
"They'll be able to graduate in their own community like anyone else," said Mary-Adele. "Having friends and relatives there for you, to see you made it all the way."
Shawn McCann, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, Culture, and Employment, could not confirm a timeline on when the school would be built, saying the plans are currently being discussed and finalized.