A Wolastoqey language immersion school is gearing up to open its doors this fall in Fredericton.
The Kehkimin Wolastoqey language immersion school was granted a one-year lease earlier this week for Killarney Park by Fredericton city council.
The school will start by focusing on kindergarten to Grade 4 curriculum with plans to expand over time.
The school will operate out of the ground floor of Killarney Lodge and will pay the city $1 to rent the facility. The school will also have access to the surrounding grounds for land-based education.
"Our language is rooted in the land and it's the only place you're going to find this language," said Lisa Perley-Dutcher, chair of the board of directors for the Kehkimin Wolastoqey language immersion school.
She said the lease allows them to open their doors this fall but after the first year, the school will relocate to a nearby house. The city and the school have a four-year agreement for the house and rent for the term will be $1.
But that house is in need of serious repairs so Perley-Dutcher said they're running a fundraising campaign to pay for renovations.
The City of Fredericton has said it will pay to replace the roof of the house and repair a crack in the foundation, but the school will be responsible for all other repairs and is responsible for paying for the utilities.
"We are committed to seeking out and acting upon opportunities that support truth and reconciliation actions with the Wolastoqey Nation and to helping with the preservation of their language," said Fredericton Mayor Kate Rogers in a news release.
Perley-Dutcher is from Neqotkuk, Tobique First Nation, and was forced to attend the Tobique Indian Day School, where she was strapped for speaking Wolastoqey. She said she held on to all the pieces of the language that she could and eventually committed to learning more.
After a 30-year career as a nurse, Perley-Dutcher took a two-year intensive Wolastoqey course at St. Thomas University in Fredericton and knew then that she wanted to see a immersion school for her nation.
"As a health intervention, I'm going to help bring the language back," said Perley-Dutcher.
Ron Tremblay, Wolastoq grand council chief, said the city of Fredericton was instrumental in lifting the school off the ground. Tremblay is also on the board of directors for the immersion school.
He said although the school came together quickly, other language warriors have been calling for early language immersion education for years.
He's worked in language education for 36 years and worked with Perley-Dutcher to help develop curriculum. They pulled from language success stories of other nations like the Maori, the Mohawk, Mi'kmaq and the Hawaiians. Tremblay said, like their models, they will also try to create language nests.
"The only way you can preserve the language is if the whole family can learn it together," said Tremblay.
The school will serve the three surrounding Wolastoqiyik communities — St. Mary's, Oromocto, and Kingsclear — and any families living in the city.