New school in Attawapiskat is a dream come true

Share Button

In June 2000, I wrote a column on the J.R. Nakogee Elementary School and the fact that it had been closed down due to contamination from an estimated 70,000 litres of diesel fuel over many years of leakage. I pointed out that it was distressing to know that the leakage had been going on for years and parents as well as educators were lobbying for something to be done. Well, guess what? – the federal government announced March 6 that it was moving ahead with plans to finally build a new school for the children of Attawapiskat. There are a lot of happy kids and parents in my home community right now.

It seems impossible that it would have taken so long for the government to do the right thing and commit to building a new school. If the same situation had happened in the non-Native world in cities or towns anywhere across this country, I am sure a new school would have been built a lot sooner. However, lets give thanks to the federal government, John Duncan, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, and to all the people who worked so hard to make the new school a reality.

Let’s face it, there are often many people behind successful lobbying campaigns and in this case I was very proud to see so many students from Attawapiskat involved in fighting for their new school. As a matter of fact the entire community is very proud of Shannen Koostachin, who at the young age of 15 rose to the challenge and led a student movement to fight for a new school. Sadly, she lost her life in a road accident during this process and I know that her parents, Andrew and Jenny, will find some healing in the fact that Shannen’s dream, through her hard work for a new school, has come true. We will all keep her memory alive with this great achievement.

Thanks must also be given to the current Chief, Theresa Spence, and her council as well as past Chiefs and councils for lobbying tirelessly for the new school. As well, the local educators, parents and most of all the students must be championed for their dedication in working for a brand-new, state-of-the-art educational facility. The people of Attawapiskat also know that MP Charlie Angus and MPP Gilles Bisson were there for the community from the very beginning in the fight for a new school. They worked tirelessly helping to organize the community to lobby the government and they brought the issue before governments, the media and ultimately the public. We will remember their dedication to our First Nation and the students in making Shannen’s dream a reality.

Schools are important in any community, but what many people don’t understand is that they are such an integral part of what makes a healthy First Nation. I know from my own experience that kids in First Nations that have schools see these facilities as places of safety and learning. These are places of refuge and they give our children hope. I was always happy to be able to head out to school every day and I was introduced to a whole new world through the work of so many teachers. I watched as more and more of our people graduated and went on to become teachers and leaders in the community. It was great for our young people to know that they did not have to leave their families and community to attend school outside the First Nation. We had our own schools and that was a huge deal considering what our parents had to go through in being forced to leave and attend religious residential schools.

So, we can certainly choose to be bitter about the amount of time and the inconvenience we put our children through in second-class, cold and imperfect portables while the long fight went on for a new school. Yes, we could be bitter and angry that the fight was so lengthy and hard, but it is much better to take the high road and celebrate the fact that our children of Attawapiskat will have a wonderful new school to call their own. When completed, the 5,808-square-metre new school will accommodate 540 students from Kindergarten to Grade 8. The new school is expected to open during the 2013-2014 school year.

It took Shannen Koostachin, who headed up the largest youth-led movement in Canada, to bring together students, teachers, parents and leaders across this country to remind us all that hard work, dedication to a just cause and a pure heart can give us miracles. Meegwetch to everyone for standing up for education.


Share Button

Comments are closed.