Attawapiskat woman's struggle focus of TIFF film

A film about one girl's dream to bring a school to Attawapiskat had its world premiere in Toronto over the weekend.

Film tells story of Shannen Koostachin, who was frustrated by substandard First Nations education

A film about one girl's dream to bring a school to Attawapiskat had its world premiere in Toronto over the weekend.

The film picks up just after the death of 14-year-old Shannen Koostachin in 2010.

Shannen Koostachin dances at the Temiskaming Secondary School Pow Wow, in Temiskaming, Ontario in 2009. The 15-year-old aboriginal youth leader was killed in 2010 in a collision in Temagami, after winning national attention as a Grade 8 student when she helped lead the fight to get Ottawa to build a grade school for the Attawapiskat First Nation. (Courtesy of Charlie Angus/Canadian Press)

Filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin said she heard about Koostachin from childrens' rights activist Cindy Blackstock.

She heard how Koostachin dreamed of being a lawyer, but was frustrated by sub-standard educational conditions in her home, Attawapiskat in northern Ontario.

Koostachin organized her fellow students in 2008 to lobby the government to replace temporary buildings with a new school.

She succeeded. But revelling in her victory was cut short, as she died in a car accident in 2010.

Obomsawin says she visited Attawapiskat not long after that, going to the portable classrooms.

"And I was really very concerned," she said. "I fell in love with the children and decided to take a crew and make the film."

Obomsawin covers the passing of a motion in the House of Commons mandating equal access to safe and comfortable schools for aboriginal students.

‘Changed how people talked about education’

Timmins James Bay MP Charlie Angus introduced that motion, called Shannen's Dream.

"It's an extraordinary thing that the Toronto International Film Festival that premieres some of the most famous pictures in the world is premiering a film about a little girl from an extremely isolated community who did an extraordinary thing," he said.

The film is called Hi-Ho Mistahey, which translates to "I love you forever."

Although the film has been completed, the movement to ensure equal access to comfortable, safe schools for aboriginal people continues.

The documentary about that movement is called Hi-Ho Mistahey, which means, "I love you forever".

"In the short time that Shannen was on the earth, and the short time for her campaign has had an extraordinary effect," Angus said.

"It's changed how people talk about education on First Nations. It's put it square on the government's agenda where it had been ignoring it."

The school, which will be named after Shannen Koostachin, is under construction in Attawapiskat.