Half an hour up Highway 6, Fairford sits isolated, hidden from the road and most of the life that passes by. Built on the banks of the Fairford River, there is little more to the reserve than compact houses, trailers and few small cattle farms.
Fairford's bland sprawl masks a deep spirituality - the place has become an evangelical hotbed. A new church is going up, and parents are pushing to have the reserve school's curriculum place greater emphasis on Christian values. Deeper into the woodlands, on the Lake St. Martin Reserve, the native-run school starts the day with the Lord's Prayer, and begins all school meetings with a word of thanks to Christ.
The religious fervor, however, belies a crime wave on area reserves that is blamed on the infiltration of gangs such as Winnipeg's infamous Indian Posse. They thrive on the illicit drug trade and see native communities as prime recruiting zones. And no reserve school seems to be free of their influence, which is why many parents want to get their kids out.
It's morning recess, and kids are kicking a ball against the principal's office window. Inside, in the hallway, there is a sign that reads “Be Considerate,” and someone has added above it: “Don't.”
Derrick Gould, Roseanna's uncle, is a graduate of Fairford but now compares it to "a jail" and sends his children to the primary school in nearby Gypsumville where Roseanna's sister, Jasmine, attends Grade 4.
Gould's 11-year-old daughter, Cheyanne, says violence and verbal abuse in the Fairford school is so bad that she would be willing to sell one of her 4-H cows if needed to attend school off the reserve. She says it doesn't really bother her that the textbook her Grade 6 class is using to study how Canada was created contains very little native content.
At the Fairford school, the morass emerges in the parking lot, where no one bothers about the beer cans strewn across the gravel. It's morning recess, and kids are kicking a ball against the principal's office window. Inside, in the hallway, there is a sign that reads "Be Considerate," and someone has added above it: "Don't."
Elsewhere, janitors have scrubbed the walls of Indian Posse logos and are about to unlock the library for a group of students whose teacher didn't show up. Half the library shelves are bare. Much of its floor space is devoted to the storage of Ping-Pong tables, desks and television sets.
The results of the 1998 renovation, which cost millions, are hard to see, beyond the decision to make way for new classrooms by moving the industrial-arts shop to a garage without windows or running water. Even so, the course remains one of the school's most popular.
The renovations also did little to change the fact that only about a fifth of the Fairford students now in Grade 9 are likely make it through Grade 12.
For Archie Latendre, who did graduate from the school and is now its guidance counsellor, all the problems are enough to justify sending his own daughter to Ashern. He doesn't want her studying next to the 18-year-old who was recently put in Grade 9 as a condition of his parole. Nor does he want her around the boy he sent to the principal's office who turned around and smashed his truck windshield. Or around the Grade 7 kid who pepper-sprayed a girl - in class.
"My own view is that experiencing other environments, other communities is very healthy," Latendre says, trying to balance parental concern with job loyalties.
For Derrick Gould's wife, Sherri, a teaching assistant at the school, the fights and abusive language among her Grade 3 pupils convinced her to ship out her own daughters. She says she understands her pupils' pain - that the violence they bring to class often reflects what they see at home, that learning to read (which some can't do even by Grade 7) isn't their greatest need.
"A lot of these kids come from big families and when they come to school they're striving for that attention," says Gould, who is now on maternity leave. One Grade 3 student had already been in nine foster homes.