Tuesday, June 21, 2011

In Honor of National Aboriginal Day: Christy Jordan-Fenton on Shannen's Dream

Today's post is by author Christy Jordan-Fenton, who is spreading the word about Shannen's Dream.

When I heard the youth of Attawapiskat speak about Shannen’s Dream, I felt a need to do something beyond signing a petition or writing a letter. How could I not be inspired, as the students spoke of their friend Shannen Koostachin and her dream for the right of all children to attend “comfy” schools? For Shannen, that didn’t mean a school where students lounge around all day on fluffy pillows. It meant one with a regularly operating school bus, where learning was not done in a cubicle set on a toxic field, and running water was something that could be counted on. I was dismayed to discover that Shannen’s friends, like many Aboriginal youth, do not go to the type of school Shannen wanted for them.  Instead, they endure conditions most of us would find absolutely unacceptable for our own children, and they do it for a chance to learn.

The story of Attawapiskat reminded me of my mother-in-law, Margaret. In the book Fatty Legs, I wrote about how she actually begged her father to take her to a residential school. She attended for two years without seeing her parents and endured some very harsh conditions, all for her own chance to learn. It seemed shocking to me that in today’s day and age, some Canadian children must still fight for what many of us take for granted, and must often leave their communities to pursue a full grade twelve education.

I felt a need to do something that would encourage the children to keep up their campaign, while helping with their plight at the same time. So, I decided to start a book drive and I put a call out to all of my friends (some who are also authors, like Susan Hughes) to send books to the community, which is on the coast of James Bay, Ontario. And I didn’t stop there. I contacted Annick Press to see if they were willing to help out… and were they! Annick responded by sending 12 kgs of books! As you can see, the children were very grateful to receive them.

Sadly, Shannen is no longer with us, having been taken in a car accident last year at the age of fifteen. But I think she would be very proud of her community’s efforts to improve education for all First Nations children. The campaign she started has become the largest youth-driven, children’s rights movement in Canadian history, earning her a nomination at age thirteen for the International Children’s Peace Prize. Her dream will become a reality for Attawapiskat in 2013, at which time the government has pledged to build a new school for the community.

If youth like Shannen and her friends can accomplish all of this without receiving an education at an acceptable standard, just imagine what they can accomplish with proper learning conditions. Hopefully their efforts will eventually see all Canadian children learning in “comfy” schools.

So, this National Aboriginal Day (June 21), I would like to ask you to think of the youth who need your support.

A big thank you to Annick Press and everyone who sent books! Way to get behind some inspirational students! For more information on Shannen’s Dream, please visit their website, join their Facebook page, and watch this video of the Attawapiskat youth talking about Shannen's Dream:

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