The Starfish Project

A couple of years ago, I, with the help of thousands of caring Canadians, Americans, and people around the world, completed construction on a playground in Attawapiskat. For the first time, kids there could play on a safe structure, learning valuable life skills and lessons only interactive, physical play can provide.

Seeing the faces of the kids (and parents) that day, I knew this was something I had to to in every single remote northern YouTube Preview Imagecommunity that didn’t have a playground. It became my mission to ensure that every First Nations child was within walking distance of a playground. I mean; it’s not fair that many First Nations don’t have a single playground, while communities like mine have 55.

I believe it is unrealistic to think that I can build a playground in every remote northern community that doesn’t have one (at least any time soon). But – I do believe that there is a way.  Allow me to introduce the “Starfish Project”.

The Starfish Project will see students from northern reserves collaborate with students from southern cities to design, plan, budget and build a playground. Together.
The experience will not only give a community an amazing playground, but will foster friendships, cross-cultural education, and a bond these kids will remember for the rest of their lives.  As far as I am aware, this will be the first student-led collaborative project of its kind in Canada. Maybe even the world.

We are launching the Starfish Project with two communities: Old Village (Katlodeeche First Nation), NWT and Kasabonika First Nations, ON. We are currently looking for students in Southern Ontario to partner with the kids in the north, and once that happens, we will begin planning for the playgrounds via Skype, Google Hangouts, or a similar technology.

In the meantime, to finance this project, we are seeking various grants. The first of which is the Aviva Community Fund. This is an online contest to see whose idea can earn the most votes. Voting begins September 29.
Until then, I am asking you to share this idea along with the Aviva link to everyone in your network(s). Then on the 29th, vote.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Bad News and Good News

 

Tomorrow is the beginning of March Break. Every year for the past 3 years, I have spent the first 24-48 hours camping out to raise
funds and awareness for some very important issues surrounding First Nations children. (poverty, homelessness, education and the lack of access to playgrounds).

This year, I am very sad to announce that we won’t be doing the campout. We tried a few different ideas to make it a huge deal, but none of them worked out and now we are out of time. So, that’s the bad news.

The good news is pretty good though.

We are right in the middle of a huge process to re-brand Northern Starfish with a whole new look. We are getting a new website as a part of this as well as T-shirts and all kinds of cool stuff that will help us to do more to raise positive awareness to the issues surrounding First Nations Children on and off reserve. All of this is made possible by the amazing generosity of a man who heard about Northern Starfish and the work we are doing and was inspired to use his talents to #DoSomething (if you follow me on Twitter you’ll know that’s a hashtag I use alot).
I can’t wait to show you all the stuff he’s been working on!

So – we’re doing that. As well, we are taking this time to really get organized and focused on the future. I saw a tweet today that said something like “Train for success like it’s a marathon, but run sprints too”. Since I was 11 years old and found out that there were people  in Canada living in third-world conditions, we have been running sprints. I still don’t understand how in my community we have 55 playgrounds while there are many remote northern communities that don’t have even one.
I don’t understand how it is fair that I can go to the tap and pour myself a glass of water when there are families (2000 people in Attawapiskat for instance) that share one community tap  - and still have to boil the water before it is safe to drink.
I don’t think it’s fair that I receive 3000-5000 more than a First Nations kid every year for my public education because of where I was born or what race my parents are. There are so many things that are not fair and I have been running to try to make a difference.

(ps. if you weren’t aware, right now, the government of Canada is facing charges of racial discrimination in a human rights tribunal. You can – and should – learn more about it here: http://www.fncaringsociety.ca/i-am-witness)

Instead of sprinting ahead into another campout and a playground build this summer as we had planned, we are stepping back and preparing for the marathon that I believe will see the end of prejudice in my lifetime.

With the help of my dad and some great mentors, we are taking this time to finally apply for our charity stastus. This is huge because, not only will it allow us to give receipts for donations, but it will also allow us to go after some grants. Our goal is to have our charity number this year and line up three playground builds on the James Bay coast next summer.
I am also right now taking this time to talk to businesses and foundations about supporting the vision to build a playground in every remote northern community that doesn’t have one. That way, once we become a registered charity, we will be able to use 100% of private donations to provide a safe place for kids to play. You will know that your money wasn’t used for travel or office stuff, but that every penny you give goes to bringing hope to kids who otherwise may never see a playground.

Next week I am speaking at Ryerson University, then at a couple of Toronto schools the week after that, then to a group of children’s pastors at their conference and then to 1500 kids at the Count Me In conference in Mississauga. I’m still running sprints :) but – I really do appreciate your support as we kind of take a step back and re-group to train for the marathon that sees justice win. I am so proud to be a part of making history with you all.

Wes

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

There Is Only One Race – The Human Race – And This Is Our Revolution

The last couple of months have been pretty insane and I am sorry for not updating this site recently.

The penny campaign is still going, so don’t worry if you haven’t been able to get your collection in yet. We’re a long way from the 1.5 billion pennies we need, so we really need your help to build 10 playgrounds and 2 foster homes. For more details, please read more here.

I had the amazing privilege of addressing the General Assembly of First Nations this summer and said something that I truly believe. “What I have been doing for the past 3 years is not charity. What I have been doing for the past 3 years is justice. It’s making something right that should have been right.”

YouTube Preview Image

First Nations children do not need or want our pity or our charity. Of course there are times when we need to do charitable acts, like bringing humanitarian aid to communities that desperately need help. In fact, that is how my journey began 3 years ago; by helping TrueNorthAid raise money and aid for the community of Attawapiskat. But what I believe First Nations communities need more than occasional emergency relief, is an end to the inequality that creates a need for emergency relief to communities in Canada.

I haven’t met anyone yet who has been able to explain to me how it is fair that a First Nations child receives thousands of dollars less in funding than me and my friends in Niagara Falls (and everywhere else in Canada) for education.

How is it fair that in Niagara Fall, we have 55 playgrounds, when so many First Nations kids have never even seen a playground?

Please explain to me why First Nations kids are not provided the same level of access or funding to decent healthcare.

And why is it, that even though there are more First Nations children in care right now than ever in the history of Canada that they receive less funding per child than non-aboriginal children?

If clean water is a right, then why is it that a majority of First Nations reserves can’t drink their water without boiling it first?

There are so many things like this that I don’t understand – or want to understand. All that matters is that we as Canadians stop this craziness.

When Claudette Colvin (a 15 year old African American) decided that she would not give up her seat on the bus because of the colour of her skin, she didn’t know she would be giving her teacher Rosa Parks the courage and inspiration to do the same. She din’t know that she would be starting a movement that would change the world. All she knew was that discrimination was wrong and she was not going to stand for it (literally).

Shannen Koostachin didn’t know that her dream of becoming a lawyer would mean she would be risking her life. But that is the reality for First Nations kids with a dream. In order to receive a level of education that was at least equivalent to the rest of Ontario’s students, she would have to leave her home and go to high school hundreds of miles away.
She didn’t know that speaking up for her right to an education and a proper school would launch the largest youth-led movement in Canada’s history. But it did.

It is time for a revolution in Canada.

I’m not sure a revolution is something you can plan for. A revolution begins with a spark. Claudette was the spark for the Civil Rights movement. Shannen is the spark for this new movement.

I see this movement being one that no longer recognizes the differences between First Nations and non-aboriginals. This is a revolution that will once and for all tear down the barriers that bring inequality and injustice. This is a movement that will not be politically based, but will keep our governments to the high standard of non-discrimination on any basis. This is not a right thing or a left thing – this is a right or wrong thing. This coming revolution will see the end of “us and them” and see only “we”.

There is only one race – the human race – and this is our revolution.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has” Margaret Mead

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Hockey Rules In Attawapiskat. True Story.

If you’ve been following Attawapiskat in the news, then you have probably heard or read Ezra Lavant talk about the hockey arena and the Zamboni.

Ezra Levant got two things right.

Two young boys walk past substandard housing on their way to play hockey in Attawapiskat, Ontario, December 17, 2011. (Frank Gunn/REUTERS

1: the awesome picture
2: the title of his article: “Hockey Rules in Attawapiskat

Here’s what he said in the Toronto Sun last week:

“Except that, right in the middle of this so-called state of emergency, when people were in leaky houses and tents, the Attawapiskat Indian band — with three chiefs and 18 band councillors on the payroll — made an important financial decision.

They needed a new ice resurfacer for their hockey rink.

They haven’t rebuilt their school up there, since it was torn down because of diesel fumes. They’re living in shacks. (Well, not the chief, of course.)

But forget about such trivial problems. These clowns needed a new ice resurfacer.

You can see a copy of the invoice for it on this page: $96,089 for an Olympia model ice resurfacer.”

The picture he used for the article shows two kids with hockey sticks walking past some homes in pretty bad shape on their way to the arena.

I LOVE this picture!

Nevermind that the “diesel fumes” were the result of a massive 100 thousand litre diesel leak right under the school, where kids attended for 20 years, causing nosebleeds, nausea, headaches and kids passing out in class. (Kids should never have to choose between an education and health). Nevermind that the arena was the project of an Attawapiskat elder who spent 15 years fundraising for it before passing away. Nevermind that the “Olympia Ice Resurfacer” was purchased with money the hockey parents and community members raised through bingos, hotdog days and other fundraisers. When your as angry as Ezra Levant, those details don’t matter.

And that’s what I don’t get. Why is he so angry that the parents of this remote First Nations community wanted to give their children a safe place to play in the wintertime?

I have been to Attawapiskat and visited some of the worst homes there. I have seen the black mould that lines some rooms like a carpet. I have seen frost on the inside of walls. I have been in the tent-houses where some families are forced to spend the winter because of the severe shortage of homes. The state of emergency is real and it is not over for Attawapiskat.

In the middle of this crisis, because parents in Attawapiskat love their kids just as much as my parents love me, we see two boys walking down the road toward the arena. Now look closer at the picture, what do you notice?
Do you see the house that looks like a shack behind them? Do you see the snow that covers the ground for more months than it doesn’t? Or, do you, like me, see the huge smiles on their faces.

Before the UN Convention on The Rights of A Child was written, parents everywhere knew  that play (sports, recreation, cultural activities) made kids happy. Realizing this, the United Nations declared article 31 of the Convention On the Rights of a Child :

Article 31 of the UN Convention

  1. That every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
  2. That member governments shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

My friends in Attawapiskat love hockey, just like many of my friends here in Niagara Falls. Why shouldn’t Attawapiskat have an arena and the equipment to have good ice, just like my community? (Our arena in Niagara Falls, by the way, cost almost $40 million dollars to build and cost $2.5 million every year to operate – I’m guessing that a lot of that comes from our taxes). The government didn’t pay for the arena or the Zamboni in Attawapiskat, even though in my opinion they should have, just like they paid for mine.

I hate politics. I hate that people have to waste time in government debating and arguing about what should or shouldn’t be done. I hate that while that debate goes on in Ottawa, newspapers and television shows argue about the same things. I hate it because, while all that debating and arguing is going on, the truth gets lost.

There is a wrong and there is a right. It is time to make things right for Attawapiskat and for all of our First People. With or without politics. With or without the angry news people. With or without the debating. First Nations kids should have access to the same opportunities that I have access to in education, health care and recreation. Anything else is discrimination and just not fair.

“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Canada’s Next Top Young Philanthropist

Wes Needs your help.
He is a finalist in the running to be Canada’s Next Top Young Philanthropist, and if he wins, will receive $10,000 to assist him in continuing his work.
See… Wes believes that discrimination in any form is wrong. Watch the video clip on voteforwes.ca as he describes the UN Convention of the rights of A Child.
Kids, no matter where they were born, what their parents do, what their religion is, all have basic rights. Anything else is just not fair.
Please help Wes spread this message  by taking less than 2 minutes to vote for him as Canada’s Next Top Young Philanthropist.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Wes’s Talk At A Gathering Of Young Adults

YouTube Preview Image
Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Shannen’s Dream

I just received this Shannen’s Dream update from Charlie Angus.
This past November, I got to meet Shannen’s parents and got to talk to them about their daughter. She was such a hero. I was so sad that I never got to meet her before she died. She was only 15.
Please help keep her memory alive. Support Shannen’s Dream.
Happy New Year!
Children across Canada are excited about getting back to school but for many First Nation children, they are returning to appalling substandard conditions.  Four hundred children at Oxford House First Nation (950 kilometres north of Winnipeg, Manitoba) have gone a year without a school because their building was condemned due to mould.  Children at Lake St. Martin First Nation (Manitoba) are unable to attend school because the building is overrun by snakes.
We need your help
Shannen’s Dream is a national campaign to ensure that all First Nation children have access to quality education and “comfy” schools.  As the year begins, we are looking to hear from schools and organizations who are interested in the campaign. If your school or organization is participating in Shannen’s Dream in any way, please contact us and share your ideas. As well, if your First Nations community needs a safe and comfy school and has a story that needs to be told, we would like to hear it.

Here is the story on the plight of First Nation school children in northern Manitoba:
What you can do
Get involved by writing a letter to your Member of Parliament, the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, and the Prime Minister – NO STAMP REQUIRED.  Encourage others at your school or in your workplace to do so as well.
Visit www.shannensdream.ca – sign the pledge for fairness in education.
Want to get active in the campaign?  It’s easy; simply e-mail us and we will send your school or organization posters, buttons and bookmarks to help build support.
Products in French will soon be available.
Sincerely,
Office of Charlie Angus, Member of Parliament
Timmins – James Bay

 


Tel 613-992-2919
Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter