[Remembering Shannen on her Birthday]
I first met this “little warrior” back in 2010 during a trip through Attawapiskat. I have a certain bias towards all of the kids in far off, remote fly-in sites such as Attawapiskat, Kashechewan, Kitchenuhmaykoosib (AKA Big Trout) , Fort Severn and all the other little places that have left such a large memory with me.
Attawapiskat and all the rest are so similar to one another in so many ways. The kids are all OjiCree or a predominance of one tribe or the other. The kids all share less than a fair chance in Canada. The realities are stark. As Aboriginal kids the cruel reality is that they are not being given a fair chance to thrive. Ironically, this land called Canada is THEIR land and yet their education, housing and health care are treated with much less priority than 99.9% of immigrant kids fresh off the airplane and new to Canada.
To meet these kids is compelling. Such bright eyes are indicative of young persons with tremendous potential. Equally compelling is the fact that due to lack of hope, the youth suicide among them escalates to six times the national average. You see, they share a number of things in common throughout all remote Aboriginal communities. That commonality applies to similar kids (be they Cree, Ojibwa, Sioux Danni or the rest). Their education is funded (or often unfunded) at a rate much lower than kids anywhere else in Canada.
Shannen Koostachin was about 14 or 15 when I first came into contact. Shannen was even more “special” than the hundreds of other kids I had come across. Shannen had this incredible poise and typical Cree resolve. She used all of her skill and her exuberant energy to speak out for the other kids at Attawapiskat. Like so many other young Aboriginal folks in too many communities like Attawapiskat, Shannen wanted a school constructed in her community. Why not? Education, after all is one of the basic rights guaranteed in numerous documents that do not seem to apply to Canada’s Aboriginal people: The United Nations Charter, The Declaration of Human Rights, the Canadian Bill of Rights , Canada’s Charter as well as the Constitution. Attwapiskat had made due with cold second hand cast-off portables as its school throughout all of Shannen’s elementary school life.
Shannen’s wonderful ability to captivate an audience made her the ideal leader of a “movement” that grew into international prominence. The movement became known as “Shannen’s Dream” and saw Shannen address the parliament of Canada with her plea for fairness.
Shannen passed away in an automobile accident five years ago. The new modern school was finally constructed in Attawapiskat. Unfortunately, Shannen had left us before the school could open its doors. Shannen’s dream had been fulfilled in Attawapiskat. However, in at least 18 other communities in Ontario, similar deficiencies exist and there is no longer a Shannen Koostachin with us to champion those other needs that continue to cry out for fairness. That plea for fairness rightly deserves many new voices. Lest Shannen’s work be wasted.
Shannen would have celebrated her 20th birthday today. Dibishkaad today, little leader. You are remembered.