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Coronavirus: Mi’kmaq students in Quebec asked not to return to New Brunswick school

A discarded face mask is shown amongst fallen leaves in Montreal, Monday, September 22, 2020.
A discarded face mask is shown amongst fallen leaves in Montreal, Monday, September 22, 2020. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

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.

But all that changed last week when New Brunswick health authorities imposed new travel restrictions in and around the Campbellton region following a rise in COVID-19 cases in the area. As of Wednesday, the region had reported more than 35 active COVID-19 infections.

One of those cases was confirmed at Sugarloaf and the school shut down Friday. And while Students from New Brunswick are expected to return to the school on Thursday, students from the Listuguj First Nation and nearby Pointe-a-la-Croix will continue their studies remotely.

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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 south 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.

READ MORE: Quebec nixes fall report card in elementary and high schools due to coronavirus

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 coursework. Thirteen educators from the First Nation who work at Sugarloaf are now at the Listuguj facility.

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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.”

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Quebec Government warns some COVID-19 restrictions could last for months' Coronavirus: Quebec Government warns some COVID-19 restrictions could last for months
Coronavirus: Quebec Government warns some COVID-19 restrictions could last for months