Why Playgrounds?!?

I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a lot of schools and groups lately, and the one big question I seem to get asked a lot is: “Why Playgrounds?”

I guess I understand the question behind the question, but, the answer isn’t an easy one. Why build playgrounds in remote First Naions communities when there seem to be so many other “important” issues? Some of these issues include:

1) Lack of clean drinking water. 1 in 5 First Nations reserves do not have access to clean drinking water and/or are under a ‘water boil” advisory. There are organizations raising literally billions of dollars to provide clean drinking water to third world countries around the world, while First Nations here at home, suffer with illness and potential disease because of the quality of their water.

2) Education. First Nations students are underfunded between 2 and 4 thousand dollars a year (so in a class of 30, First Nations would receive aproximately $120,000 less every year than my class in Niagara Falls). It’s no wonder the education standards are 3 to 4 years behind non First Nations schools and the dropout rate is so high.

3) Housing. Overcrowding is a huge issue and one that caused Attawapiskat Ontario to declare a state of emergency last year. I visited a 3 bedroom home that had been condemend 4 years ago. The 19 family members were forced to stay in this home because there was no where else to live.

4) Healthcare. A First Nations lady in New Brunswick just won a year long court case trying to get the same level of care for her son as she would if she was off reserve and non-aboriginal. That’s insane! Thank God she won the case and her son can now be treated; but really – why in the world should she have to fight in court to get the same level of care as I would get?

These are just a few examples of some of the issues I am aware – and yes, I know – there are many, many more. So, back to the question. With so many BIG issues facing First Nations people, why are playgrounds important?

If you take a look at the four issues above, you may see a common denominator. In a city like Toronto, Vancouver or even my town of Niagara Falls, none of these issues would be acceptable. We, as Canadian citizens would demand our rights and force changes. So how is it that we continue to allow these sorts of things to continue for First Nations? I’ll leave that for you to answer, but, in that answer lies the answer to “why playgrounds”.

Where I live (Niagara Falls), there are 55 playrounds, 3 of which are in my neighborhood. I think that’s awesome! Anytime my friends and I want to do something, we head to the playground for a game of grounders. Growing up, my parents would always take us to the playground to just run around and have fun.

When obesity in Canadian children is reported at 30%, it just makes sense to encourage outdoor physical activity among children and youth. Other benefits include the development of social skills – in fact – many experts believe that the social skills learned on the playground benefits the country as a whole.

Children who play on a playground develop greater self-confidence and highe self esteem. And – playground play actually helps children’s brains develop as they “learn about the world through motor activities and sensory experiences”, according to the Shasta report. 

Playgrounds are important. My city believes that – that’s why we have 55.

So – if playgrounds are important and we agree there are benefits to allowin children to play on playgrounds – how is it that so many First Nations reserves don’t have even one?

This is not about charity. With First Nations youth the fastest growing group in Canada; this is about justice.
I believe First Nations children should have access to clean drinking water.
I believe First Nations children should have access to equitable education.
I believe First Nations children should have access to equitable health care.

And – I believe that there should be at least one playround in every First Nations community

because that’s just fair.


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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.”

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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

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Hey Simcoe St. Stingers!

I had an awesome time meeting you all today at your assembly!. I hope you had a great time too.
Thank you for caring so much about others to give. The money you collected in your classes came to almost $100! It will be used to help build the very next playground. Thank you!

I wanted to remind you that you can make a difference. Just like Collette Colvin, Craig Keilburber and Shannen Koostachin.

Maybe today because it’s Random Acts Of Kindness Day, it’s easier to think that you can “be the change”, but really, if you think about it and make every day Random Acts of Kindness Day, we could all change our world together.
Don’t you think?

Please remember to tak a minute and visit the website for Shannen’s Dream Learn about her and her dream of safe and comfy schools for all First Nations children. And please sign your name to support her dream as well.

Please come back often. I hope to see you all again soon.

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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.

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An Open Letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, INAC Minister John Duncan and the Candidates in My Area

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.

Wesley Prankard

Grade 7, Prince Phillip School


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You Have A Voice

Right now, I’m in Ottawa at the Unite and Ignite Conference for youth. I’m learning tons and meeting all kinds of people from all across Canada.
On Thursday night, I was honoured to be the kick-off keynote speaker. What I talked about was a pretty simple concept that a lot of adults don’t seem to get.
My message came from the theme of the movie, “Pay It Forward”

Here’s the scene I showed:


Now, like I said, I am in Ottawa and in fact was at Parliament yesterday. The day that we found out we’re going to have another election.
There are a lot of important ideas that will be talked about and maybe even decided in this election.
What I am going to do, and what I am asking you to do is this: Find an idea you are passionate about, then, put it into action – AND – talk to every candidate in your area to see what they will do about your idea if elected.

Shannen’s Dream is an idea I am passionate about. I have already talked with two of our candidates, Rob Nicholson and Bev Hodgson. I can also tell you that I will be speaking with them both a lot more as well as the other candidates.
Education is a right – and my friends in Attawapiskat and many other reserves are being denied their rights to the same rights that I have. That’s not fair. And it’s not right.

I can’t vote yet, but that doesn’t mean that Rob and Bev (and the other people I haven’t met yet)  won’t listen. They know that kids my age are the future and what I’m learning this week is: They are making decisions today that will affect me when I can vote.

My friends and I are becoming educatedon these things – more than my parents or grandparents were at my age. We are connected and we have a voice.

My challenge to you: It doesn’t matter if your a kid, an adult or a senior. You have a voice. Use it.

Dexterity Check! (That’s for my Unite and Ignite Peeps)

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