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Edwards keeps Shannen’s dream for a school alive

Thursday January 10, 2013
Chelsea Edwards has had a busy year advocating for First Nations education.

Chelsea Edwards’ fight for equitable funding for First Nations education makes her runner up for Wawatay’s female newsmaker of the year.

After the 16-year-old from Attawapiskat First Nation was named the Shannen’s Dream spokesperson in the fall of 2011, Edwards was asked to be one of six First Nations youth ambassadors to travel overseas to Geneva, Switzerland, to give a presentation to the United Nations (UN) about the inequalities facing Aboriginal youth in Canada.

On Feb. 6, Edwards told the UN committee about the diesel contamination of the J.R. Nakogee Elementary School in her community and its closure 12 years ago; her experience in attending classes in portables that were cold, infested with mice and had toxic smells; the Canadian government’s repeated and broken promises of a new school; and that 47 First Nations are in need of educational facilities.

She also told them about 15-year-old Shannen Koostachin, Edwards’ friend who initiated the biggest letter-writing campaign in Canada to urge the federal government to build Attawapiskat a new school, and about her untimely death in 2010 and the campaign named in her honour.

“History is made,” she said on her Facebook profile following the meeting. “Watch out Harper and Duncan, you’re both out of excuses now that they’ve heard our voices.”

Three weeks later, Edwards was feeling nervous in the House Commons as it was about to vote on Motion 202, called Shannen’s Dream.

Sitting with Shannen’s parents – Andrew and Jenny Koostachin – and Shannen’s older sister, Serena and her daughter, Baby Shannen, Edwards didn’t realize what was happening as the members of parliament were voting unanimously to support the motion.

“Serena and I were sitting side-by-side with Baby Shannen, and we thought they were just taking attendance,” Edwards recalls. “After everyone sat down, we were like ‘OK, good, everyone’s here, let’s get it started.’ And they looked at us and started clapping.”

On June 22, Edwards was on hand for a sod turning event at the future site of a new school in her community. The school is scheduled to open in March 2014.

In the fall, Edwards received two awards for advocating for First Nations youth.
She also had the opportunity to speak to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child again in December.

After hearing from Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth in Toronto, the UN’s envoy provided her feedback at the end of the day.

“She wasn’t impressed with Canada,” Edwards said. “And she believes they have the money to invest in us and to make these problems go away but they’re not spending it properly.”

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