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After decades of schooling in seven trailers hooked together, students and staff on Fishing Lake First Nation are celebrating a brand new building that houses K to 12 education.

Saulteaux teacher, Sandra Kayseas held back tears while speaking to the people of Fishing Lake First Nation during the grand opening of the Chief Sabitawasis School. Kayseas is the longest-serving teacher in the community and recalls what the staff and the students had to endure in their previous school.

“I’ve been crying quite a bit because I’m so excited for the kids and to see the beautiful school after working in the two portables. I used to work out of my vehicle and the portables. When it would rain, I would go from classroom to classroom outside and my papers would get wet or we would get sick because we would be outside going back and forth,” Kayseas said.

For 30 years, community leaders have been advocating for a new school and negotiating with Indigenous Services Canada. Since 1990, the school was made up of portable trailers near the First Nation’s subdivision. There was no gymnasium and physical education was done through various activities outside.

“We were able to make do with what we had. We took the children to the lake for exercise, we had road hockey. We did what we could,” added Kayseas.

“We had some good times in that school, we worked together and we were in unity. We didn’t have a gym but we would take these kids to these track and field meets in other schools and those kids came home with more ribbons than the other schools and those kids had gymnasiums and track and fields,” said Elder Melba Horney.

“We were offered portables and later one we got a second set of portables. For 30 years we have been working on getting a new school and with the persistence of our people, that’s why we have this new school today,” said Derek Sunshine, Chief of Fishing Lake.

Multiple staff members also talked about operating over capacity, having leaky or frozen pipes, exposed natural gas lines and staff and students wearing their jackets indoors just to keep warm during the winter months.

“I wore my jacket right from September until we got here. I wore my rubber boots in September and October and I wore my winter boots when the snow got here. So even just coming here at this new school and being able to take off my jacket, that’s such a huge thing for us and the students,” said Rhonda Kayseas, principal of Chief Sabitawasis School.

Now more than 180 students have a new $30 million school located on the north end of the First Nation. It has a gymnasium complete with a stage, a fitness room and a running track on the second floor. It also includes a daycare and head start program.

“Every community has athletes and we had nowhere to facilitate our athletes at the school. We lost a lot of athletes and that was a lot of years of losing the chance to compete with other communities,” said Chief Sunshine.

“Seeing these kids so happy. They have a gym they can play in, it’s so wonderful to see them so happy. They don’t need to dress up to go outside to go to the next classroom or for physical education,” added Sandra Kayseas.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations was one of the many speakers at the school celebration. During his speech, he held up his Treaty Medallion and talked about the importance of signing Treaty 4 with the Crown and the Federal Government and the promises made in 1874 with the Indigenous people of this land.

“Our children deserve good, quality education and that’s what this school represents. As long as the sun shines, the rivers flow and the grass grows, we have a Treaty relationship with the Crown and that’s for sharing this land with our non-Indigenous brothers and sisters. We’re like a family and in exchange for sharing the land, the spirt and intent of education was a promise made. This opening of the school is a promise made and a promise kept. The honour of the Crown must be maintained at all times,” Bellegarde said.