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Cumberland House Cree Nation begins rebuilding band office lost in fire

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WATCH: A fire at the band office was reported to the RCMP and the local fire department in the northern village of Cumberland House, Sask., on Dec. 2, 2019 – Dec 2, 2019

It’s been 10 months since a fire destroyed an important piece of Cumberland House Cree Nation (CHCN) in northern Saskatchewan.

Chief Rene Chaboyer said they’re moving forward to rebuild their band office which had also served as a school for many years before it burnt down on Dec. 2, 2019.

Read more: Fire destroys band office in Cumberland House, Sask.

“There was a lot of members, community members, that went to school there so then eventually a lot of the people that went to school there actually worked there and it was devastating for them,” he said.

“It catered to the younger generation. I think it went up to Grade 10 I believe and then they had to go to Charlebois Community School on the municipal side to get their (Grade) 11, 12 high school (education).

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“The school was … we have a more modern school now is called Nisto Awasisak Memorial School. It’s K-12, our old band office couldn’t accommodate K-12.”

The CHCN said its band office lost historical data and information that cannot be replaced due to the fire.

“There are lots of photos that you can’t recover, documents, maps, traditional gifts. The computers, they held a lot of information. We were switching over from our old computer software … we were actually in the process of uploading information so that we wouldn’t lose it,” Chaboyer said.

“This fire came along and really put a wrench into saving all those documents and stuff. So even with that, we’re still recovering today with finances, records, policies, maps. You name it, everything.

“Then you throw COVID into the mix [which] doesn’t help anything. It’s been a tough couple of months but we’re getting through it.”

Chaboyer said the cause of the blaze back in December was arson. The CHCN is still offering a $10,000 reward for any information that leads to a conviction.

“The investigation is still pending … Nobody has come forward,” Chaboyer said.

“I’m thinking about upping it up to $20,000 in the next little while here to try and get somebody to speak on it.”

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The chief said about 20 employees worked at the former band office, which also was connected to a daycare.

“(The daycare had) even just finished the full renovation of their section on the building,” Chaboyer said.

“For our community members, I assured them that they would not lose their jobs because of it. So we gathered and we planned and we figured out how to keep them employed,” Chaboyer said.

Cumberland House Cree Nation Chief Rene Chaboyer and councillors at sod-turning ceremony on Oct. 1, 2020.
Cumberland House Cree Nation Chief Rene Chaboyer and councillors at sod-turning ceremony on Oct. 1, 2020. Cumberland House Cree Nation / Supplied

On Thursday, a sod-turning ceremony was held to mark the start of construction of CHCN’s band office and daycare.

“We had insurance … we put that down as a down payment on a loan to finance our new builds,” Chaboyer said.

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“It was a sense of good happy feelings … I think (the community’s) pretty happy with what’s to come.”

Read more: USask cabins reused to fit housing needs of northern Saskatchewan First Nation

The new 15,458-square-foot band office is expected to be completed by the end of February 2021.

“It’s on (CHCN) behind the local school. It’ll be close to Saskatchewan River. Our offices will oversee and have a great view of the bridge as you enter our community. It will be central for the membership to access,” Chaboyer said.

“When they built that old school, it was built on top of gravesites but unmarked. So now, as of today, we will ensure that site will never be built upon for the future. We will put a memorial plaque there and make sure that it’s protected. That’s why we didn’t build on the same site.”

CHCN was established on Sept. 24, 1875, has roughly 1,750 members currently and is located approximately 360 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.