MPs vote unanimously to fulfill Shannen’s dream

  • February 29, 2012

OTTAWA - Shannen Koostachin had a dream for “safe and comfy” culturally sensitive schools for First Nations children like herself.

On Feb. 27, a vote in the House of Commons brought that dream closer to reality.

The House of Commons voted unanimously to “adopt Shannen’s Dream” by declaring First Nations children’s “equal right to high-quality, culturally relevant education” and to provide the necessary policy changes, consultation and funding support to make a First Nations’ education system “at a minimum” equal in quality to provincial systems.

“This is certainly an historic day,” said NDP MP Charlie Angus.

“It’s the first day the Canadian Parliament has recognized its failure to address the basic education rights of First Nations children.”

In 2008, when Shannen was 13, she came to Ottawa to appeal to the Indian Affairs Minister for a new school to replace the dilapidated and chilly portable classrooms housing 400 students at the Attawapiskat First Nation. When her request was turned down, Shannen appealed to other school children across Canada via YouTube and the Shannen’s Dream campaign quickly spread to schools across the country.

Angus, who represents Attawapiskat in his Timmins-James Bay riding, credits the schoolchildren from across the country who came together to support Shannen, using YouTube and other social media.

“The groundswell of support came from the students and worked its way up,” Angus said.

Involved in the campaign since the beginning, Angus accompanied Shannen on her visit to Parliament Hill. But Shannen died in an automobile accident in 2010, just a few days before her 16th birthday. At the time, she was attending school 600 kilometres from her home.

“People realized we couldn’t stop, we had to make something out of this tragedy,” Angus said.  

Educators, school boards and union leaders hopped aboard the grassroots campaign driven by students across the country.

“That girl haunts me,” Angus said. “I wake up every morning asking myself, ‘What do I have to do today to make Shannen’s Dream a reality?’ ”

Though passage of the motion marks a significant first step, Angus said he was going to make sure it did not end up like so many other motions that make promises with no follow through.

“We have a long history of broken promises,” Angus said. “They’re called treaties.”

Governments of all stripes have known about these problems until one kid stood up, he said.

“This is the civil rights movement of our generation.”

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