Social Justice Stories

building compassion, tolerance, and responsible citizenship through social justice narratives

Shannen and the Dream for a School

by Janet Wilson

All children have the right to a school

This is the true story of Shannen Koostachin and the people of Attawapiskat, a Cree community in Northern Ontario, who have been fighting for a new school since 1979, when a fuel spill contaminated their original school building.

It is 2008, and thirteen-year-old Shannen and the other students at J.R. Nakogee Elementary are tired of attending class in portables that smell and don't keep out the freezing cold winter air. They make a YouTube video describing the poor conditions, and their plea for a decent school gains them attention and support from community leaders and children across the country. Inspired, the students decide to turn their grade-eight class trip into a visit to Ottawa to speak to the Canadian government. Once there, Shannen speaks passionately to the politicians about the need to give Native children the opportunity to succeed. The following summer, Shannen is nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize. Her passion and that of the other students makes politicians stand up and take notice, and becomes a rallying point for the community and for the country.

Shannen will never see her dream fulfilled. Tragically, she was killed in a car crash in 2010. Her family, friends, and supporters are continuing to fight and to honor her memory as they work for equality for children in communities everywhere.