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Shannen’s Dream closer to reality

Wednesday February 29, 2012

Shannen’s Dream took a big step towards being realized.

A motion calling for the federal government to improve education on First Nations reserves was passed unanimously in the House of Commons on Feb. 27.

The motion calls for increased funding of on-reserve schools at least to the level provincial run schools.

While the passing of the motion implies that funding will soon increase for First Nations education, Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan did not commit to increased funding following the vote.

"Our government is already investing heavily in education infrastructure, including building over 30 new schools, new additions to 22 other First Nations schools and over 200 other important projects," Duncan said in a written statement.

"We made education a top priority in the Canada-First Nations Joint Action Plan and the recent Crown-First Nations gathering in January. We will continue on our path ensuring support for training, skills development and education for First Nations."

Motion 202 was first introduced by NDP MP Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay) in September 2010 and then re-introduced in October 2011, following the last federal election. The motion calls for the government to “declare that all First Nation children have an equal right to high quality culturally-relevant education” and “implement policies to make the First Nation education system, at a minimum, of equal quality to provincial school systems.”

The motion was nicknamed in honour of Shannen Koostachin, a 15-year-old Attawapiskat youth who initiated the biggest letter writing campaign in Canada urging the federal government to build a new school in her community. She died tragically in a car accident in 2010. Shannen’s Dream is a campaign named in her honour and aims at ensuring that all First Nations in Canada have “safe and comfy” schools.

The motion was debated in the House of Commons on Feb. 17, with several MP’s who support the motion highlighting the statistics and reports showing that educational standards and facilities in First Nations communities are drastically below those off reserve.

Angus said that the poor standards of on-reserve education is the result of decades of systemic negligence and abuse.

“This was never a priority until children made it a priority,” he said. “That is what makes today's motion different.”

Angus highlighted that Shannen was recently selected by CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos as one of five teenage girls in history who made in difference alongside Joan of Arc, Anne Frank and Mary Shelley.

“Shannen did not want to make history,” he said. “She did not set out to be a hero. She wanted to be on a volleyball team. She wanted to have a locker. She wanted to write notes in the classroom. She had a dream that she could have what she called ‘a comfy school.’”

NAN Deputy Grand Chief Terry Waboose applauded the passing of the motion named after Shannen.

“Countless people have been inspired by this remarkable young leader, whose dream of attending what she called a ‘real school’ led her from this remote Cree community all the way to Ottawa to fight for a better education, and a better future for her fellow students,” Waboose, who holds the NAN education portfolio, said in a press release.

“It is fitting that a motion supporting the rights of First Nations to quality education is named in honour of Shannen, who through her all-too short life has left a lasting legacy from her fight against the federal government for something every other Canadian child has the right to – a quality education.”

The vote for the motion came just weeks after Shannen’s Dream spokesperson Chelsea Edwards, a 16-year-old from Attawapiskat, was among six First Nations youth ambassadors who spoke to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child on Feb. 6 about the inequalities facing Aboriginal youth in Canada.

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