Attawapiskat students win new school (Shannen's Dream), Ontario, 2007-2012

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
Construction has not been completed but the school is expected to be operational in 2013.
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Attawapiskat First Nation, Ontario
Location Description: 
On James Bay 220 Kilometres north of Moosonee, Ontario
A new clean, safe and quality education facility for the children of Attawapiskat.

Attawapiskat First Nation is a small community located on James Bay approximately 220 kilometers north of Moosonee, Ontario. Attawapiskat was home to a courageous and passionate young woman named Shannen Koostachin. Shannen led a campaign of school children to fight for the right to “safe and comfy” schools and quality, culturally based education for First Nations children all across Canada.

The community of Attawapiskat initially had a school called JR Nakogee Elementary that was built in the late 1970’s and was home to approximately 400 students. JR Nakogee Elementary was closed in 2000 when it was discovered that a major diesel oil leak in 1979 had contaminated the school grounds and posed a significant health risk to the young children attending the school. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) began soil remediation of the site and provided temporary school facilities. These facilities consisted of seven duplex portable classrooms and two four-plex buildings for administration and resource space. The temporary school was ready for the children of Attawapiskat in 2001. The portable classrooms were only meant to be a temporary fix rather than a permanent school for the children of Attawapiskat.

After a few years of wear and tear the portable schools began to show their aging infrastructure. The schools were moldy, cold, and damp; when it rained the roof leaked; and in the winter the temperature often fell below -40 C. Yet the students of Attawapiskat were expected to learn and thrive in this environment. Throughout the years there had been numerous promises by government officials of a new school in Attawapiskat, but none of the promises came to fruition.

Shannen Koostachin vowed to change that. Shannen’s dream was for her and her classmates to be afforded the opportunities that are given to all children of Canada: the right to a safe learning environment. At age thirteen Shannen and her friends created a YouTube video about their school’s condition and how they wanted a safe and healthy building to learn in. This video went viral and garnered the support of thousands of school children across Canada as well as other organizations.

Shannen and her fellow classmates also started a letter writing campaign called the Attawapiskat School Campaign. This campaign reached out to non-Aboriginal students across Canada and encouraged them to write to the federal government and demand a new school for Attawapiskat. Thousands of children answered this call for help, which prompted promises of a new school from the Minister of Indian Affairs Chuck Strahl. In 2008, the Minister advised that the federal government could not fund the new school. This prompted Shannen and two of her other classmates to cancel their grade eight graduation trip to Niagara Falls and instead fly to Ottawa to meet with Minister Strahl and encourage him to fight harder to build a new school for the children of Attawapiskat.

In 2009 the children of Attawapiskat held an education rights conference at the University of Toronto that was attended by over 500 other children. It was at this conference Shannen and others delivered heartfelt speeches on why they felt it was important to have proper education in a proper facility. In December of 2009 the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development informed the community of Attawapiskat that a new school would be built in the community by 2013.

In 2010 Shannen Koostachin passed away in a tragic car accident. Her family, friends and community created Shannen’s Dream in memory of her work to ensure that all First Nations children across Canada have “safe and comfy schools” and receive quality education that makes them proud of who they are. Shannen’s Dream has grown to an annual “Shannen’s Dream day of Action” walk that is held in numerous cities across the country in support of equal rights to education for First Nation children. While Shannen was alive her dream of a new school in Attawapiskat was not realized, however with the support of family, friends, and fellow students who have continued her fight, ground has been broken for the new school in Attawapiskat that will be completed by 2013. Shannen’s Dream has grown into a movement for all First Nations children to be afforded the right to a quality and equitable education.

Research Notes
author unknown, Shannens, , date accessed 27/02/2012

CBC News, New School Brings Hope to Attawapiskat Residents, CBC, February 27, 2012, date accessed February 27, 2012,

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Felicity Forbister, 27/02/2012