Mi'kmaq students in Quebec asked not to return to New Brunswick school

A Mi’kmaq First Nation in Quebec is questioning why its students are no longer able to enter New Brunswick to go to school.

About 100 students from the Listuguj First Nation cross a bridge into Campbellton, N.B., each weekday to attend classes at Sugarloaf Senior High, said Listuguj First Nation Chief Darcy Gray in an interview Tuesday.

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But all that changed when Premier Blaine Higgs announced Friday the Campbellton region would be moving to "orange" level precautions under the province's COVID-19 recovery plan, restricting all non-essential travel into the area. The move came as authorities scrambled to contain a sudden COVID-19 outbreak in the area, which was linked to more than 35 active cases as of Wednesday afternoon.

Though New Brunswick had a so-called travel bubble with the Listuguj First Nation and nearby Pointe-a-la-Croix, Higgs said students from Quebec would shift to online learning.

Sugarloaf was shut down Friday after a case was confirmed there the day before. Students from New Brunswick are expected to return to the school on Thursday. Students from the Listuguj First Nation and Pointe-a-la-Croix will continue their studies remotely.

Gray said he reacted to the news with "shock and disbelief."

"Is it because we're Mi’kmaq, or is it because of some other circumstance that allows for us to kind of be brushed aside a little easier?" Gray said.

"That's the question (students) are asking, and I think that's the question we're asking as a community."

Since the beginning of the pandemic, he said not one COVID-19 infection has been reported in his community, located on the southwestern end of Quebec's Gaspe peninsula.

If there is a public health concern, it should apply to all Sugarloaf students, not just the Mi’kmaq students, Gray said.

New Brunswick Education Minister Dominic Cardy said this weekend the government made the decision because Quebec and New Brunswick have different COVID-19 safety protocols.

Gray said the First Nation set up a learning facility in Listuguj where Sugarloaf students can gather and do their course work. Thirteen educators from the First Nation who work at Sugarloaf are now at the Listuguj facility. He said it was a huge undertaking, but so far, the kids are doing well.

"It’s unnerving, the decisions that can be made under the guise of COVID," Gray said. "I think we have to be very, very mindful of the direction certain things are going and what rights are being stepped on."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 14, 2020.

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