National Council of Women of Canada - Blog

A Blog gives you current information and items of inerest. The National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC) has done two blogs on the meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women, 2010, and 2011. We are continuing now with a blog, on a range of topics of interst to members and the public. The NCWC has a very complete web site where you can learn more about the history and members of Council.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Access to Education on Reserves

Students march for First Nations equality; Children will take to Parliament Hill to push for better access to education on reserves, writes Matthew Pearson
Ottawa Citizen
Sat Apr 23 2011
Page: C6
Section: City
Byline: Matthew Pearson

Inspired by a Cree teen who dreamed of attending a safe, comfortable school in her isolated James Bay community, hundreds of Ottawa students will march on Parliament Hill Wednesday to demand the federal government provide First Nations children on reserves with equal access to education.
"It makes no sense to them that there's such an inequality in Canada," said Danielle Fontaine, the Grade 3 and 4 teacher at Lady Evelyn Alternative School.
The Parliament Hill rally is part of a national day of action in memory of Shannen Koostachin, an aboriginal teen killed in a car crash last May.
For years, the children of her hometown of Attawapiskat, a fly-in First Nations community, have waited for the federal government to rebuild the elementary school, which was closed in 2000 after a large diesel spill contaminated the ground beneath it. A smattering of portables were installed as a temporary solution, but years of neglect have not been kind to them. Some have no heat, forcing students to wear winter coats inside. Others have fire doors that are warped or frozen shut in winter.
Frustrated and feeling abandoned, the children launched a letter-writing campaign, calling on the government to build them a new school. They also turned to Facebook and YouTube to reach non-aboriginal students across the country, urging them to support the cause.
In 2008, the Grade 8 class cancelled a trip to Niagara Falls and used the money to send three representatives to Ottawa to meet face-to-face with Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl.
"They decided, rather than go on a class trip, they were going to go confront the government," said Charlie Angus, the Member of Parliament for Timmins-James Bay.
Koostachin was one of them. The 13-year-old demanded action from Strahl, convened a news conference with national media and later gave a raw and rousing speech at a conference in Toronto. She was soon nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize and the campaign is the subject of a documentary produced by Heartspeak, a youth engagement organization.
Koostachin eventually moved south, where she lived with Angus's family, to attend a non-native high school. She was living with another family in New Liskeard when she died.
"I cry every day about Shannen," Angus said.
In the days following her death -amid waves of grief -individuals and organizations from across the country began connecting. No one could let Koostachin's message die with her, so Shannen's Dream was born. The campaign's goal is to raise public awareness about the plight of reserve schools and address the lack of funding.
"People need to realize what's been happening," Angus said.
Like many, Fontaine said she was shocked when she learned more about the situation. "I haven't been able to sleep since I heard about Shannen's Dream," she said.
Learning about the dire conditions in Attawapiskat has given 11-year-old Zoe Bevan a whole new appreciation for her school and its stocked library shelves, bright gymnasium and warm classrooms.
"The children in Attawapiskat should be the ones complaining, not us," she said.
Her classmate, Ian Bourrie, said he worried it might be hard for young people from the community to find jobs if they don't get a proper education.
Madeline Cuillerier, another Grade 6 student, added the government has continually broken its promise to fix the school.
"They have enough money to build a school, but they just choose to spend it on other things that aren't as important," she said.
More than 50 schools on First Nation reserves across Canada have been closed or condemned or are operating in substandard condition, Angus said. He introduced a motion in the House of Commons last fall calling on the government to close the funding gap for the schools and says it will be his first order of business if he's re-elected May 2.

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