“This is a site for our children, our children’s children, and their grandchildren . . . a place where they can learn and enjoy themselves,” said Big Island elder Joe Big George.
And with those words, a ground-breaking ceremony for the new school at Big Grassy began last Thursday morning.
Amid the wind and rain, the ceremony started with teachers, engineers, and members of the community looking on. After receiving the customary gifts of blankets and tobacco, Big George and the Big Grassy Drummers began four songs to thank the four seasons and the four directions.
The ceremony culminated when Big George, with eagle feathers in hand, blessed the site with an Ojibway prayer.
“This is a day of new beginnings,” education director and teacher Elizabeth Mitchell said before the ceremonial ribbon-cutting. “The end of a long and frustrating ordeal.”.
Big Grassy students Raven Archie, grade two, and Dakota Andy, senior kindergarten, then came forward to cut the ribbon.
They were followed by Kevin Tuesday, senior kindergarten, who dug the first shovelful of earth from the site, and then filled the hole with tobacco in a gesture of thanks to Mother Earth for a promising beginning.
Plans for the news school, which will house students from kindergarten to grade eight, were on display at a fish fry following the ground-breaking ceremony.
It is expected to be built by January, with the final inspection to take place in March.
Tenders for construction are out until June 25. Five contractors are in the running for the bid so far after two dropped out because of their inexperience in building in “remote areas.”
The school has been designed by J.H. Rust Architect Inc. of Don Mills, Ont. but ultimately the 15,000 sq. ft. building plan is the result of a collective design process.
“We, as a firm, took advice from the teachers and the community to design a school everyone would happy with,” chief engineer Jack Steenhof said.
The school will have six classrooms, a gymnasium, a computer room, a multi-purpose room, and adequate office space for administrative purposes, he noted.
An estimated 55 students are expected to attend the new school but with new housing being built on the reserve, Mitchell said the number is “bound to be greater.”
And with the reserve’s population growing all the time, future construction already is being planned there, including a medical services building and possibly a high school.