On April 27th, Project of Heart took part in a student-led day of action on Parliament Hill to encourage the federal government to stay true to its promise to build a new school in the northern community of Attawapiskat and all First Nations communities lacking adequate educational facilities for their children.
The day began with a refreshments in the Lady Evelyn Public Alternative School, where guests from Attawapiskat — including Shannen Koustachin’s parents, Jenny Nakogee and Andrew Koustachi — were warmly welcomed by the staff of Lady Evelyn. Joining Jenny and Andrew were Grand Chief Terry Waboose, Chelsea Edwards, and four students from Attawapikat. Also in attendance was Charlie Angus, MP for Timmins-James Bay, Cindy Blackstock, executive director for the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, Eric Chen from Ontario Student Trustee’s Association, and Project of Heart participants from the Native Studies class of Lester B. Pearson Catholic High School in Ottawa.
Enthusiasm built as Charlie Angus and the students sang “Diamonds in the Snow” (see video above) a tribute to Shannen and her dream, as they marched out of the school and onto the street.
On the way to the Hill, students from Immaculata Catholic High School joined the march, as did a bus-load of First Nations students from Kitigan Zibi Reserve near Maniwaki, Quebec. All in all, about 300 youth marched to Parliament Hill where they presented Paul Dewar with their letters to the government, urging action be taken to give the students of Attawapiskat a new school, and to fix the many other run-down schools on reserves across Canada.
Project of Heart participants from the Ottawa schools of Summit Alternative, Notre Dame Catholic High School, Glebe Collegiate, and Fisher Park were also there to tell the Government to build high schools so students don’t have to leave their families and their communities, like Shannen did, to get what every other youth like them, in Canada, takes for granted–an education.
First Nations youth as well as non-Aboriginal youth spoke from the podium. Chief Gilbert Whiteduck from the Kitigan Zibi First Nation lauded the youth, as he spoke of the importance of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginals working together for a fair deal. Ann Hawkins from the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, and Paul Dewar both iterated the responsibility of the Federal Government to end the discrimination against First Nations youth.
Below is Project of Heart participant, Tara Wilson’s letter to Prime Minister Harper, which she read on Parliament Hill:
Dear Government of Canada,
On behalf of the First Nations children of Canada suffering from inequitable funding, I am writing this letter to remind you that your lack of funding for a new school in Attawapiskat is shameful and it’s a social injustice that will no longer be tolerated. We are no longer asking, but we are demanding that the treaty right to education of the children of Attawapiskat be recognized and implemented immediately. An apology is also in order.
A 13-year old girl shouldn’t have to write to a letter explaining to the Government of Canada that inequitable funding for First Nations education programs is in direct violation of Articles 1, 2, and 26 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Section 15 of The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Article 14 (2) of United Nations Declaration on the right of Indigenous peoples, and the Convention on the rights of the Child. Not to mention that it is discriminatory and wrong. The Government of Canada has been ripping off the people of First Nations communities for far too long and it is time for you own up to what was rightfully promised to the children
You also should not be arguing with the government of Ontario regarding funding. The Federal Government and the Provincial government should both be funding what is freely given to children off reserve. You wouldn’t make your children suffer this way, so why inflict it on First Nations children? If you were truly apologetic for the oppression that First Nations children went through in residential schools, then why are you inflicting the same oppression on First Nations children today through inequitable funding?
It is a sad and shameful day when children are telling the leaders of our country what is right and wrong; they have voiced their opinion and taken a stand. There is no denying that First Nations children want and deserve a change. Build the children of Attawapiskat a school and close the funding gap between Children on and off-reserves.
Grade 8, Ottawa Ontario
Summit Alternative School
For more about the devastating impact on underfunding of First Nations children on reserves, see this Ottawa Citizen report: