Shannen Koostachin died in a car crash in 2010 at the age of 15, but not before she had led a youth advocacy movement for equitable access to education and been nominated for Nobel International Children's Peace Prize. The late activist fought for "safe and comfy" schools for Attawapiskat youth.
Now, friends, family and those who have heard Koostachin's story are raising money to erect a monument in her honour in New Liskeard, Ontario.
Koostachin herself never attended class in a proper school, her monument's Indiegogo page reads.
The only school for 400 Attawapiskat children was closed after a fuel leak contaminated the ground beneath it. Koostachin went to school in portables atop the old school's playground. Heat to those buildings would regularly shut off.
Shannen began a letter-writing campaign in 2008 to demand a school in Attawapiskat.
"They were spearheading this youth-led campaign bringing attention to the fact that Attawapiskat doesn't have a school and that the land's contaminated and all the other issues that they were dealing with," said Jules Koostachin, the project lead for Shannen's monument.
"She wanted youth to be able to go to school and to have a 'comfy school'… to not have to worry about mold and cold or having access to a library," said Koostachin.
Although the then-minister of Aboriginal affairs, Chuck Strahl, wrote back to her saying the government could not afford to fund a new school in Attawapiskat, Shannen was undeterred. She continued her advocacy and spoke at an education rights conference at the University of Toronto 2009. Later that year, minister Strahl promised a new school for the children of Attawapiskat. That school opened August 2014.
"Her dream actually came true after she had passed away," said Koostachin. "Her hard work, and the hard work of other youth, actually got that school built in Attawapiskat," she added.
The school opened long after Shannen Koostachin ever had a chance to attend it.
She had to move away from home to New Liskeard to attend high school, a two-hour plane ride, a five-hour train ride and a four-hour drive away from Attawapiskat.
It's also where her monument will be erected.
"New Liskeard was the place where she had to leave her home community to go to school so it's a reminder that other Native students are in the same situation where they have to leave their home," Koostachin said.
Two years after it was conceived, the monument project is near completion. Koostachin hopes to launch it this October, although a few more donations are needed.
She's enlisted Tyler Fauvelle, a sculptor based just outside of Sudbury, to create the monument.
"There are so many monuments of old politicians and political leaders out there," Koostachin said. "It would really be great to, in light of the truth and reconciliation as well, to actually honour the spirit and the work of a 15-year-old Cree girl who was an advocate for equitable access to education."
Megan Devlin is rabble's news intern for 2015. She hails from Toronto, but she's starting her Masters in Journalism in Vancouver. She got her start in journalism working at the Western Gazette where she was a news editor for volume 107 and online associate editor for volume 108.
Image used with permission from Jules Koostachin.
Thank you for reading this story…
More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.
rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.
So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.
And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.