WHITEFISH RIVER FIRST NATION—Persistence is the key to success, and the chief and council of Whitefish River First Nation are nothing if not persistent. Yet after a long hard fought battle to reach a goal, success often comes in a whirlwind. Witness the recently announced new $1.3 million daycare the band will soon be adding to the existing Shawanosowe School.
“This is one of the projects we have been working on since we opened our new school in 2007,” said Chief Shining Turtle. “We were looking at the side, the back, the front and the top, but we never had the resourcing to make it happen. We now have the resourcing to make it happen.”
With more than 10 years of lobbying, funding applications and countless meetings with bureaucrats and politicians at all levels of government it certainly didn’t come easy, but it was a last minute Little NHL push that finally seemed to open the floodgates. “We just kept at it,” said Chief Shining Turtle. “We brought the message to the federal and provincial government.”
The community was, in a way, facing challenges due to its outstanding success in other areas. “We have built a lot of housing in the community and a great number of people were moving home,” said Chief Shining Turtle. “So with a lot of families, and a lot of very young children, we were facing challenges that came about because we have been so successful.”
Chief Shining Turtle knew something had to give, but the statement had to be made in a way that would get through.
“My council gave me the go-ahead to hold meetings during Little NHL,” said the chief. “Normally, we are concentrating on the tournament, but we set up meetings during the games because we wanted them to know just how serious we are about this.”
The Little NHL hockey tournament, which was started in Little Current, has outgrown Island venues and those across Northern Ontario and is now held generally in Mississauga where there are enough ice pads to accommodate the more than 160 teams the games attract from across the province.
It was during the meeting on the Tuesday of the week Little NHL was being held that the atmosphere in the room experienced a sea change. “You could feel the difference in the room,” recalled Chief Shining Turtle. “They were starting to get it, that this really was such a serious issue that we would make the time to be available during Little NHL.”
Parents of pre-school and school-aged children have long had immense challenges in the WRFN with child care.
“The old daycare was on top of the hill and the school was down below, then we built the new school up on top of the hill and the daycare was down below,” said Chief Shining Turtle. “It often presented titanic challenges from one to the next.”
The current Maamwe Kendaasing building had its grand opening on October 14, 1998 and currently can accommodate five toddler, eight pre-school and 20 school age children, noted the chief. “The new daycare will be added to the east side of Shawanosowe School and will provide 4,000 square feet of new space and opportunities for our children and will ultimately bring all our education under one roof,” said Chief Shining Turtle. “From early learning to Grade 6 will all be in the same building.”
Plans for the new Maamwe Kendaasing Early Learning and Innovation Centre have been finalized and construction will begin shortly after the school closes for the summer. “We want to get shovels in the ground as early in July as possible to minimize any impact on the school year,” said Chief Shining Turtle.
There are many facets to constructing a major building that are essentially invisible to the community, but they are vital to the success of the operation as bulldozers and dumptrucks on the ground. “There are all the professional services that are necessary to get a project off the ground from on paper.”
The daycare is one of two projects that the WRFN council has given the chief and his negotiating team the latitude to pursue as they see fit, and it seems to be working out.
“It all came together,” said Chief Shining Turtle. “In fact, just a month after that meeting a letter arrived out of nowhere. Things started to move at a speed I really have not seen before. There weren’t months of swimming through red tape. I brought it back to council and they said go with it.”
So now things are being fast-tracked as much as possible and it looks like the first shovels will be hitting the turf within a few weeks.