Today is the National Day of Action for Shannen’s Dream.
Shannen Koostachin is someone I consider to be a hero, someone who every Canadian kid can look at as a role model.
If she was still alive, I think we would have been very good friends.
Shannen is from Attawapiskat, a remote First Nations reserve along James Bay. When Shannen was in grade 8, she and a few of her friends decided not to go to Toronto and Niagara Falls like every other grade 8 class before her. Instead, she went to Ottawa to ask the government for a real school. Something she had never known.
When the J.R. Nakogee Elementary School was built in 1979, there was a huge diesel spill from broken pipes right under the school. For years, right up to 2000, the kids went to class with 100,000 litres of diesel right below them. Obviously, kids were constantly sick with headaches, nosebleeds and nausea. Can you imagine having to go to school knowing that you will be inhaling diesel fumes all day and will probably have another nosebleed in class?
It wasn’t until the student’s parents pulled them all out of school and refused to send them back that the government agreed to do something.
They put up portable classrooms and promised to build a new school. That was now 11 years ago. Since then three promises to build a school have not been kept and the kids still meet in portables.
I went to school for a day in Attawapiskat and had the honour of spending a few hours talking with Shannen’s parents. What I learned was this: my parents or any of my friend’s parents would not send me to J.R. Nakogee School if they had a choice. But I guess that’s the problem. My Attawapiskat friends don’t have a choice. If they want any kind of education, they have to go to school in portables. Portables where the doors don’t close properly allowing mice and cold in. Portables that are now covered in black mould under the floors.
They use the arena for a gym. So – every time it’s time for gym class, the kids have to put their coats, boots and hats on and walk outside in the -40 degree weather. What’s worse is, after gym when they are all sweaty from running, they have to make the same walk back to their class. So – guess what? These kids still are getting sick. Just because they go to school.
Shannen Koostachin had spent her entire school life in these portables and was tired of it. She sacrificed her grade 8 year-end trip to confront the government once again and challenge them to keep their promise.
She died in a tragic car accident last year. She was 15.
I am not as old as she was. I am twelve. I can’t vote. But – I do have a voice, it’s not a big a voice as Shannen’s, but I have a voice.
And what I hope you as politicians realize is that in a couple of years my friends and I will be allowed to vote. And trust me, we will. And our voices will be even bigger.
Shannen’s Dream is a bill that was presented to the House of Commons last fall by my friend, Charlie Angus (NDP MP for Timmins/James Bay). This bill if passed, would make sure all First Nation kids have the same opportunities to an education that I have.
I don’t really understand why we need to pass a new bill to do the right thing, but if that’s what we have to do, then I guess that’s what we have to do.
I am writing this letter to encourage you to support Shannen’s Dream, Bill 571.
Discrimination in any form is wrong. Even I know that. Hopefully you will have the courage to support this bill, not because it was or wasn’t your party’s idea, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Good luck on May 2nd.
Grade 7, Prince Phillip School