Remembering a powerful activist from Attawapiskat

I should have posted this much earlier, but sometimes when you hear bad news you expect that everyone else must have heard it too and that they all feel the loss as you did.

It seems that this story has been either missed or certainly under-reported by the major media outlets outside of Northern Ontario.  I find this surprising as young activists are rare and successful young activists perhaps even more so.  So when I heard that Shannen Koostachin from Attawapiskat was killed in a car accident earlier this month, I thought it would make headlines.

For those of you who have never heard of Attawapiskat, it is a tiny community near the uppermost limits of Ontario, situated just upriver from James Bay.  In 1979 a toxic oil spill seeped under the community’s only school and was never properly cleaned up.  Students were forced to use the contaminated school for over 20 years while successive federal government’s ignored pleas for help.  The school was finally closed when parents no longer allowed their children to attend and teachers refused to work there.  For the past 10 years, students were educated in a mish-mash of portable buildings and shelters.  The community launched a campaign to have a proper new school built and Shannen Koostachin, barely in her teens, emerged as an unlikely but persuasive activist.  Hearing Shannen speak was a humbling, yet invigorating experience.  She spoke simply and directly enough to hush a room and inspire respect.

Shannen lived to hear the federal government formally promise the funding of a new school for Attawpaiskat, scheduled to open in 2012.  What a shame that she will not be there see it.  A sad story, but perhaps her legacy will encourage others to realize the power of one voice — even the voice of a single child.

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