By Sam Laskaris
WIKWEMIKONG – By being awarded $50,000 in a national contest, local officials will be able to build a greenhouse on the Wikwemikong Territory.
The projected 1,400-square foot greenhouse, which will be built at the Wikwemikong High School, will also allow students at the school to enroll in a handful of new courses that are expected to be offered, beginning next September.
And the hope is the greenhouse will also provide a community-led sustainable food source.
The announcement that Wikwemikong would be getting $50,000 to build a greenhouse through the Aviva Community Fund contest was made at an assembly at the high school on Tuesday.
For the past eight years Aviva, an insurance company, has been investing in charitable community projects across the country. It accepts applications in various categories for its annual contest.
Members of the public are able to vote on which project they would like to see funded in the initial stage of the contest. And then a panel of judges make the final decisions.
A total of $1 million was available for funding in the Aviva contest this year. Wikwemikong entered a bid to win up to $50,000 in the community resilience category.
Wikwemikong’s application was a collaborative effort, including those from the high school and the Wikwemikong Development Commission (WDC).
WDC’s apprenticeship officer Christianna Jones said the idea to enter the Aviva contest came from program officials at Focus Forward For Indigenous Youth. This group’s mission is to have Indigenous students develop hands-on skills by working on various community projects across the country.
“They contacted us early in the summer because they had heard about some projects we were doing with greenhouse projects and tiny home building,” Jones said. “And we decided to work with them.”
Aviva officials received a total of 235 funding applications in their contest this year. And 25 of those were in the category of those seeking up to $50,000 in the community resilience category.
During the public voting process, which was staged Oct. 10-19, Wikwemikong’s submission received about 16,000 votes from across Canada.
“That was pretty cool given our on-reserve population is about 3,000,” Jones said.
After the public voting process, Wikwemikong officials found out they were one of the five finalists in their category. Then they found out this past week a panel selected them as the over-all winner in their category.
And now they can start putting their plans in motion. Students from the high school will be heavily involved in the construction of the greenhouse.
“The plan is to break ground in May of next year,” Jones said. “The students will do the building. And the students will do the ground prep and anything else we have to do before we start building the greenhouse.”
Trade professionals and contractors will also be offering their expertise during the construction phase.
The plan is to have the greenhouse built by next July. Co-op credits will be available to those students who assist with the construction.
“We’re ecstatic because this can enhance our course offerings,” said Michael Staruck, the principal at Wikwemikong High School.
Staruck said the majority of the 176 students enrolled at the school this year attended Tuesday’s assembly. They came to the event not knowing what announcement would be made.
“They were pretty excited,” Staruck said. “And they were all holding up signs.”
Staruck said school officials will in all likelihood decide by February or March which new green industries classes they will offer, beginning with the 2018-19 academic year.
Staruck added the majority of the students are not certain if they will benefit from some of the new courses being offered. But they realized it will be a plus for their school to offer new classes that will also ultimately benefit those in the community.