Attawapiskat Education

Students in the Attawapiskat First Nation -- a remote community on James Bay in Northern Ontario -- have been waiting for a proper school for more than 10 years now. And they're not the only first nations students who say they're facing shortcomings when it comes to the quality of their education.

Part Two of The Current

Attawapiskat First Nation - Andrew Koostachin

We started this segment with a clip of Shannen Koostachin speaking at a youth conference in Toronto in 2008. She was 13 at the time. She had come from the Attawapiskat First Nation, a remote fly-in community on James Bay in Northern Ontario. And she was rallying for change. Her school was closed more than a decade ago, when the community learned the site had been contaminated by an oil spill. Since then, the children in the community have been attending school in portables.

Shannen Koostachin made it her mission to fight for a proper school in her community. She took her fight to Ottawa and then to the United Nations but Shannen never saw a new school. She died in a car accident a year ago at the age of 15. Her death devastated the community but now, others there have taken up her fight and launched a campaign called Shannen's Dream. Shannen's father, Andrew Koostachin, was in Timmins, Ontario.

Attawapiskat First Nation - Cindy Blackstock

Since Shannen's death, young people across Canada have continued to push for Shannen's Dream and many have taken part in an extensive letter writing campaign.

And Attawapiskat isn't the only First Nations community facing problems when it comes to education. Cindy Blackstock is the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. And she is submitting a report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child asking for an external review of children's rights in Canada. She's also an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Extension at the University of Alberta. Cindy Blackstock was in Ottawa.

We requested an interview with John Duncan -- the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. We also asked to speak with a representative of the department, but we were told no one was available. It did provide us with a statement and it reads in part:

The education and safety of First Nation children are important priorities for our Government. We invest 200-million-dollars annually in First Nations school infrastructure and also provided 174-million-dollars under Canada's Economic Action Plan to build or renovate another 12 schools.

The statement goes on to say that:

The department has set aside funding over three years to accelerate the construction of a new elementary school for the Attawapiskat First Nation. This is a very important step towards realizing Shannen's Dream. Education is more than bricks and mortar ... improving educational outcomes is key to ensuring that First Nations students succeed.

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