GUELPH — A few years ago, Eden Mills artist, author and activist Janet Wilson became enamoured with the stories of courageous children in developing countries who began fighting for human rights of children. She would turn their inspiring stories into illustrated books for children.
But Wilson told a crowd of about 120 at a Zonta Club of Guelph breakfast to commemorate International Women’s Day on Thursday that she was both surprised and inspired to learn the story of Shannen Koostachin. The 13-year-old girl, from the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, was fighting for the rights of children here in Canada.
“I learned through her story that there was injustice against children in our own country,” Wilson told a crowd that included Guelph Mayor Karen Farbridge and a number of local female community, academic and business leaders.
“The more I researched, the more outraged I became,” said Wilson, speaking of the plight of aboriginal children in remote reserves who have woefully inadequate schools and, in some cases, schools that are contaminated.
Koostachin, herself inspired by other children’s rights movements in this country and elsewhere, took up the cause of lobbying Ottawa to build a new school in Attawapiskat — not the shabby portables that children in the community were forced to use.
When then Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl said the government didn’t have the money to spend on a new school, Koostachin said she didn’t believe him. She started a campaign in late 2007 that spread across the country.
It took until 2009 for the community to get a commitment from the government for a new school. In June, 2010, Koostachin was killed in an automobile accident. The school has not yet been built, but is promised for 2013.
“The federal government refused to remedy the situation,” Wilson said. “Three ministers of Indian Affairs promised a school, and all three broke their promise.”
Shannen’s Dream has become one of the largest children’s rights campaigns in history, Wilson said, but few Canadians know anything about it.
“I’ve lost faith in our leaders,” said Wilson, adding political leaders and adults in general appear to have relinquished their responsibility to tackle critical issues such as poverty and global warming. But children appear ready to take up the challenge, Wilson said.
“Adults have all the excuses, but children don’t have excuses,” she said. “They only know what their hearts tell them.”
For the price of four Stealth bombers, she added, every child in the world who is not receiving an adequate education could receive one.
“I think we have a solution for the big problem of poverty, and that solution is to be found in girls,” she said. By educating and empowering the girls of the world, she said, the lives of everyone would be improved and costly and ruinous wars would end.
To view this article from the Guelph Mercury