IFNA celebrates grand opening of new student dwellings in Sioux Lookout
Jesse Bonello - Staff Writer
The Independent First Nations Alliance (IFNA) celebrated the grand opening of their Home Away Community Student Dwelling, located in Sioux Lookout, on March 3.
Students from Muskrat Dam First Nation and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, who leave their communities to attend high school in Sioux Lookout, have been enjoying brand new student dwellings since September.
IFNA said, due to a lack of housing for First Nation students in Sioux Lookout, they decided to build two two-story complexes that are capable of housing a total of 20 students.
“In order to address the chronic shortage of livable housing for First Nation students in Sioux Lookout, the Independent First Nations Alliance, a northern Tribal Council servicing five First Nations communities, has constructed two dwelling units. In January 2019 it became evident that IFNA would not be able to find private boarding homes for Sioux Lookout high school students from Muskrat Dam First Nation and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug. As a result, IFNA decided to build student dwellings to accommodate these students,” IFNA shared in a press release.
Located on Bernier Bay in Sioux Lookout, the project is valued at $1.8 million.
“One is a duplex that houses five students on each side, while the other is an open-concept unit housing ten students. Each student has a private living space with their own bedroom and washroom. There are also common areas including a kitchen, dining room, study area, and rec room,” the press release from IFNA stated.
IFNA CEO Matthew Hoppe said students are provided with integral resources while living at the student dwelling, such as mental health, emotional, and academic supports.
“IFNA saw a need and has created a system to provide the students with all of the supports they require while making them feel at home,” he said.
Students have agreed, saying they feel well supported at the dwellings.
“I think it’s a very nice place to live in because they provide a lot of support for you. They provide mental health supports and help with school work, so it’s a very nice environment to be in,” said Leroy Kakegamic, IFNA Student Residence Ambassador and grade nine Sioux North High School student.
“We have two people we call house parents that come here, take care of us, cook for us, that kind of thing… The food is really good. They have tutors for us on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and we also have this program for us on weekends that teaches us life skills. We do snowmobiling, ice fishing, snowshoeing. It’s really fun,” he added.
Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Chief Donny Morris, Muskrat Dam Chief Vernon Morris, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, and Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance were in attendance during the grand opening celebration.
“I take great joy in knowing they (the students) are in a safe environment, they’re together, and they have a great support staff,” said Donny Morris during the grand opening.
“With this initiative by IFNA it’s improving housing, but also increasing mental health supports for students living off reserve, in this case going to high school here in Sioux Lookout. In that sense it is unique, and I know that in speaking with other organizations and other communities they’re very much interested in learning more about what IFNA is doing here in Sioux Lookout… I’m really glad that IFNA is doing this because it’s going to help a lot of kids,” said Fiddler.
“I think this idea here is fantastic. We were involved with the housing summit a few years ago, and we were trying to encourage the agencies who are creating employment to also create residences. This fits in with that in terms of education and the residence for the kids,” said Lawrance.
“I think it’s a tough situation. When students come out in grade nine, it’s a very young age to have to leave home, and I know through speaking with various agencies across various sectors that, in recent years, the kind of support that this facility, and what the agencies are providing in terms of support, and our community is providing is making a tremendous difference to the success of the students… You can tell by hearing from the students themselves that this is worth it,” Lawrance added.
According to IFNA, students earned 98.9 per cent of credits during the first semester this school year, while living at the dwellings, and their grades are at or above the provincial standard. Hoppe said the results have been inspiring, which has resulted in IFNA planning to build two more dwelling units for the next school year.
“The initial successes we are seeing from the Home Away Community Student Dwelling Program is extremely encouraging. As a result, we are currently in the planning stages to add two additional units to be built and ready for the 2020-21 school year. Our goal at IFNA is focused on proactive and innovative ways to help our First Nation high school students achieve success in attaining their Ontario Secondary School Diploma and more,” said Hoppe.
“It’s always good to see a project being built, especially for the students in providing them a nice safe place to do their studies… We hope to carry on this tradition and build some more this year,” concluded Jonathan Gregg, IFNA Technical Services Manager.