The Dryden Observer

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Yes, but…

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

As I stated a few weeks back, I was expecting a lot from Monday night’s public meeting over the proposed Pinewood high school transition project for remote First Nations students.

But, I don’t think anyone bargained on the larger significance of the discussion that arose among 200 citizens crammed into the gym of the former Pinewood School.

Every kind of emotion presented itself in what seemed to me to be a cathartic and long overdue conversation about the long-term direction of post-forestry Dryden.

At the centre of so many strong feelings exacerbated by our municipal leadership’s struggles of late was a provocative idea. The boarding school concept asks incredible amounts of faith, acceptance and trust from a community that has always grudgingly offered Aboriginal residents these things on a piecemeal basis.

What of our future, a community with a rapidly rising urban Aboriginal demographic of families fleeing the crushing social problems of the remote communities for a chance at a better life?

Monday night asked the question, ‘are we finally ready to count them among own?’

While hard to accurately gauge, the answer seemed to me a resounding “Yes, but…”

It’s never been an easy transition, coming to town. This one perhaps more than others.

The courageous voices of aboriginal residents like Millie Flamand and Louis Simard spoke of the obstacles they struggled to overcome in their lives, difficulties that have not abated over the years, but instead deepened for First Nations youth in their attempts to merge with a mainstream that is leaving them behind academically and economically.

And amidst the blind terror over dipping property values and property crime, concerns over inadequate supervision, living facilities and support for children’s emotional needs there was this beautiful moment when some 200 residents seemed to recognize that somewhere beyond many problems yet to be solved, there was an opportunity to change some people’s lives.

Keewatin-Patricia District School Board’s Jack McMaster was the key to skilfully articulating the school board and Keewaytinook Okinakanak’s (KO) concept. His passionate yet informal manner set a tone for a discussion where residents felt comfortable speaking their minds. There was surprisingly little repetition and an unexpected amount of thoughtful discourse on the topic from a public, who in some cases, had envisioned the scenario further than the school board and KO.

In the end, the proponent heard a mountain of concerns, but what they didn’t hear a lot of was outright rejection of the concept. Moving forward, the meeting seems to have earned itself ‘short leash’ support on the condition that the project meet the expectations of the community in a number of regards.

Chris Marchand

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