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Lifesaver for ages 9 and up -- Canada: Education is a basic human right

    Friday, February 13, 2015 - 10:18


    Can you imagine going to school in Canada in a classroom that is so cold and drafty that you have to keep your winter coat and mitts on? Or a school that doesn’t have enough books for all the students?

    These were the kinds of conditions that Shannen Koostachin (pronounced COO sta chin) grew up with in the Attawapiskat (Atta WA pis cat) First Nation, near the shores of James Bay in Northern Ontario.

    A bad oil spill forced the community’s old school to close. The federal government had promised to build a new school but it didn’t keep its promise. Instead, year after year, students went to school in temporary trailers where it was often too cold to concentrate.

    Shannen and her classmates wanted a chance to get a good education and they wanted to be treated fairly. So in 2008, they organized a campaign to let other people know about the conditions at their school. Their actions inspired thousands of other students to write letters to the government of Canada asking that a new school be built.

    They succeeded. In 2013, five years after the students at Attawapiskat launched their campaign, the government began building them a new school.

    Sadly, Shannen never got to see the success of her campaign. She died in a car accident in 2010 when she was only 15.
    But Shannen continues to inspire others.

    Today, there’s a national campaign called Shannen’s Dream. It’s about making sure that all First Nations children get a good education and have a chance to go to a good, safe school that respects their culture.

    The campaign is needed because Attawapiskat isn’t the only First Nation where the school is unsafe or uncomfortable and where students don’t have the tools they need for a good education.

    Why are so many First Nations students in schools that are mouldy, too cold or overcrowded? One study found that funding for First Nations schools has fallen behind funding for other schools by around $1 billion since 2005.

    Last year, the federal government promised to increase the funding for First Nations schools. But before they’ll do that, the federal government said First Nations leaders must support plans for a new law on education. That proposed law fails to address many key issues in First Nations education including the teaching of Indigenous languages.

    A good education is a basic right for everyone. Amnesty believes the federal government should work more cooperatively with First Nations to make sure that the real needs of First Nations students are understood and that these needs are met. The federal government should begin right away by closing the funding gap for First Nations schools. 


    What can I do? Speak out for fairness!
    Please write a short, polite letter to the federal Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

    • Explain who you are and why you’re concerned.
    • Explain that everyone has the right to an education and that First Nations students should be able to go to schools in their own communities that teach them their languages and cultures and are as good as schools anywhere in the country.
    • Urge the government to make fair funding for First Nations schools an urgent priority.


    Where do I send my message?

    The Honourable Bernard Valcourt
    Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development
    House of Commons
    Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

    Choose one of these ways to reach the minister:
    Postage: None required
    Fax:   (613) 996-9736 
    Twitter:  @Min_BValcourt
    Or you may email him using the form on his website:

    Where can I learn more?

    Check out the Shannen’s Dream website to learn how young people are speaking out for fairness for First Nations students:

    Visit the Project of Heart website to learn more about Indigenous peoples in Canada:

    Watch the National Film Board documentary on Shannen’s Dream called “Hi-Ho Mistahey” (which means “I love you forever” in Cree):

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