Where are the school supplies?
More than a month into the school year, five Six Nations schools are without replacement textbooks, notepads, photocopy paper and other essentials usually provided by the federal government.
As happens every year, Six Nations schools ordered about $22,000 worth of school supplies in May, giving Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada plenty of time to ship them to the reserve before the start of the next school year.
Parent Courtney Martin can’t understand what went wrong this time.
“Every year, our supplies come in in June,” said Martin, a member of the home and school committee at Oliver M. Smith School in Ohsweken. “This is the first year they haven’t arrived.”
To cover the shortfall, the committee has used funds earmarked for swimming lessons and special event buses to buy pens and pencils for students.
“We should never have had to dip into those funds,” Martin said. “If we have to continue, we won’t have extra-curricular activities.”
In many cases, teachers and parents bought supplies with money out of their own pockets.
About two dozen parents, residents and Six Nations politicians held placards outside the post office on Dalhousie Street in downtown Brantford on Friday morning, demanding answers from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and Brant MP Phil McColeman.
“Why can’t our kids have equal rights as non-native kids?” asked Coun. Carl Hill from Six Nations elected council. “I bet I can go to the schools here (in Brantford) and they all have their supplies. This should not have happened.”
Hill said the government shipped some writing supplies in response to an Oct. 1 protest at the Brantford Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development office. But an explanation as to why the supplies were waylaid in the first place has not been forthcoming.
“We would like some answers,” Hill said. “We’re here today and there’s nobody here to give us an answer. That’s not right.”
During a telephone interview, Brant MP Phil McColeman said an “administrative failure” caused the delivery of supplies to go awry.
“I’m outraged that it’s happened,” McColeman said. “I don’t think there was any conscious decision to hold back the supplies, but somewhere there was a huge administrative gaffe.”
Since Six Nations elected council Chief Bill Montour made him aware of the situation earlier this week, McColeman has been working with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development staff to get supplies into the classroom. A “large amount” of supplies arrived this week, though students are still sharing textbooks because replacement books have not yet arrived.
“There’s been no lost learning resulting from this as far as the textbooks go…there just aren’t enough for every student,” McColeman said.
McColeman said he is baffled that supplies ordered five months ago have still not arrived and wants to see the purchase orders so he can ask Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development what went wrong. He imagines the department will be “receptive” to reimbursing any out of pocket expenses incurred by parents and teachers.
“I’ll be taking this up to the highest level of Ottawa to make sure this gross error doesn’t happen again,” McColeman said.