Long before the Federal Government’s planned delivery of mobile homes and food to the remote Northern community of Attawapiskat, there was Lady Evelyn Alternative School.
While Attawapiskat has recently become a household name across Canada after it declared a state of emergency, the native community has been on the radar of the small alternative school in Ottawa’s East for some time now. For two years, in fact.
But while Attawapiskat’s call to Canada was for food and shelter, Lady Evelyn’s students answered a different call. This time, a cry for support from perhaps the bravest school girl this nation has ever known – Shannen Koostachin of the Attawapiskat First Nation. Shannen died, at the age of fifteen, never having known the inside of a proper classroom or a decent education. She knew however, that she and every other child in Attawapiskat, deserved one, and she spent her short life fighting for it. In her words: “School should be a time for dreams. Every kid deserves this.”Shannen’s journey began when her school (the only elementary school for 400 children in Attawapiskat) closed due to diesel fuel contamination under the building. Portable trailers were put in the playground as a “temporary school.” Nine years later, they were still there. No school. The doors warped and the heat went off in winter. The children walked in the cold from portable to portable.
In 2010, Shannen died in an automobile accident – never seeing her dream – for all First Nations children to have “safe and comfy schools” come true. It’s a situation, Lady Evelyn Alternative School and others have found unacceptable. In April 2011, months before the Attawapiskat crisis, the school took its message to Parliament Hill. Letters were delivered to politicians in support of Shannen’s Dream to “rally behind the principle of equitable education rights for First Nation children and youth.” However, the school hasn’t stopped there. It has organized fundraising activities and recently answered the call from the Attawapiskat Food Bank to collect and send food to the James Bay community.
Let’s hope, once Attawapiskat is no longer in the headlines, Shannen’s Dream and the dreams of Attawapiskat and other struggling First Nations communities, are not left behind. For more information on Shannen’s Dream (and the efforts of Lady Evelyn Alternative School) please visit: www.shannensdream.ca.
For more OLM articles on Attawapiskat, click HERE.