Shannen speaking at the National Day of Action, Ottawa, May 31, 2008.
While she did not live to see it, Shannen Koostachin's dream of safe and decent schools for First Nations students has moved closer to reality after a unanimous vote on February 27 by the House of Commons calling on the government to provide increased funding to reserve schools to bring them up to the same standards as publicly funded schools in the provincial system.
The passage of the Shannen's Dream motion comes two years after the fifteen-year-old Attawapiskat student died in a car accident, and four years after she launched a nation-wide community campaign to lobby for better schools for First Nations children. Shannen's efforts included a 2008 meeting with the then Minister of Indian Affairs, Chuck Strahl, who told her the federal government could not afford to rebuild her school which had been condemned after an oil spill.
Shannen told the Minister she did not believe him, and pledged to keep the pressure on as a public speaker, and organizer of a national letter writing campaign which continued until her tragic death in 2010. Her legacy lives on through the Shannen's Dream campaign, which has continued to press the Harper government to provide equitable funding to First Nations schools. The campaign is co-ordinated by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFS), a UFCW Canada National Partner.
"Up until now, the Harper government has been all words but no action," says Naveen Mehta, human rights and equity director for UFCW Canada. "The upcoming budget must reflect the unanimous support of the House to make Shannen's Dream a reality for the tens of thousands of First Nations students who continue to be denied their fundamental rights to a decent classroom and educational resources."