The Shannen’s Dream campaign to end education apartheid for First Nations youth held a major launch on June 10 for a new report that will make its way to the United Nations later this year.
The 84-page document is an alternate report, entitled Our Dreams Matter Too, that will be delivered at the Rights of the Child Convention on the occasion of Canada’s third and fourth periodic reviews in Geneva by the United Nations.
To launch the report, Timmins-James Bay NDP MP Charlie Angus headed to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School in Gatineau for a media event in which the students participated.
Also in attendance were Angus Toulouse from the Assembly of First Nations and Irwin Elman, Ontario’s Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, plus Shawnesia Ottawa and Daisy Brascoupe, two youth representatives from the nearby Kitigan Zibi Algonquin reserve.
“This stems from the letter that was written by Shannen to Canada almost three years ago. It told Canada that it was being put on formal notice, that First Nations children were going to challenge Canada at the upcoming review of Canada’s obligations under the Rights of the Child Convention because we are an international signatory to this agreement that protects the basic rights of children. One of those basic rights is the right to an education,” said Angus.
Angus was speaking of the determined 15-year-old who the organization is named after. Shannen Koostachin was a youth leader from the Ontario Cree community of Attawapiskat who became the face of her community’s 10-year-long battle for a new elementary school. Speaking out to then Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl in person, despite being told that her community couldn’t have its school, Koostachin went as far as telling the minister that she wished her classroom were as nice as his office. And, the courageous teen spoke at as many public events as she possibly could to further Attawapiskat’s cause until the government finally agreed to give the community a school.
Sadly, Koostachin’s life was cut short by a car crash in the spring of 2010. Since then, her dream for all First Nations youth to be able to study in safe and what she called “comfy” schools instead of the dilapidated portable trailers that stood in for classrooms in her community has lived on.
It was her dream that every child in Canada has the opportunity to be able to have childhood dreams in schools but to this day on-reserve schools are still under-funded by 22% on average.
According to Angus, not only was the launch an overwhelming success but for the first time the story was picked up by European news affiliates, breaking national boundaries and making international headlines.
“The best place to put that heat right now is in the international forum because Canada will have to explain why it has left these children in sub-standard, negligent conditions,” said Angus.
While the MP said he was happy to hear that First Nations education was something that the Canadian government will be working on, as was mentioned in the Throne Speech, bringing First Nations education up to the speed of the average Canadian school across the country is the kind of promise that Shannen’s Dream is looking for. And that hasn’t happened yet.
Until Ottawa makes this kind of commitment, Angus said the movement will only be stepping things up, bringing in more partners from schools, corporations and political bodies so that the government will have no choice but to make sure that First Nations children get what every other child in Canada takes for granted.
“Indian Affairs is a colonial monolith. To get change, you have to dramatically increase the pressure and I think that we are where we need to be right now,” said Angus.
As Koostachin has practically become a folk hero amongst children and schools that have been participating in the campaign, her story of courage and her dream for education continues to passed on by word-of-mouth all over this country.
Angus said later this year the foundation will launch its last massive campaign sweep before heading to the UN to present the report. While he said he could not give any details yet as to what that the sweep will be like, Angus is hopeful that everyone in Canada will hear about it when it happens.
“You know us, we have always got one bigger mountain up our sleeves that we are going to climb and then ski down and knock the Conservatives over,” said Angus.
To view the report: www.fncfcs.com/sites/default/files/docs/OurDreams-June2011.pdf