Students on a northern Manitoba First Nation have been dismissed from classes indefinitely after their school’s roof collapsed over the Easter weekend, the latest challenge in a community grappling with an addiction and mental health crisis.

O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation was expecting engineers to arrive Tuesday to assess damage at Thunderbird School, a nursery-to-Grade 10 building, operated in partnership with the Frontier School Division.

Chief Shirley Ducharme said a large amount of heavy, wet snow is to blame.

“The high winds lifted the sheet metal and left the roof bare, which concerns us because with freezing rain forecasted for the area it could cause further damage to our school,” Ducharme said in a news release prepared by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.

More than a month ago, the First Nation located in South Indian Lake — about 130 kilometres northwest of Thompson — announced it was in an emergency situation following several deaths in the span of two weeks.

Ducharme has called on the provincial and federal governments to help residents living with addiction and mental health challenges.

MKO said it remains unclear when the community’s nearly 50-year-old school, which was already in disrepair before the roof collapsed, will reopen. The advocacy organization indicated efforts are underway to get residents a new school.

Frontier superintendent Reg Klassen said the school, which opened in 1973, has been in rough shape for a long time.

“I will often refer to this school as being the least enjoyable or the least inviting in terms of its physical space in the entire school division,” Klassen said Tuesday.

Following the engineers’ evaluation, if need be, the 2022-23 instruction will resume in alternative community spaces, he said.

In 2018, the chief and council hired an architecture firm to undertake a feasibility study of the structure. The authors recommended demolition because significant recapitalization projects were required to ensure its ongoing functionality.

Klassen estimates about $1 million has been spent on repairs, many of them Band-Aid solutions, since then.

“We’re pouring educational dollars into a hole in the ground. We’re not getting that money out. Nobody’s going to come and salvage parts of this building,” he said, adding Ottawa has repeatedly postponed the project.

Indigenous Services Canada did not comment.

By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 11, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Free Press   Winnipeg, Manitoba

Comments are Welcome - Use the 'Join the Discussion' above any replies, or 'TheRegional / Chat' below replies. Both links take you to the same place. You will be asked to become a registered user if you are not one already - Posts are moderated