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Attawapiskat book wins First Nation Communities Read competition

The winner of this year’s First Nation Communities Read program is Janet Wilson’s Shannen and the Dream for a School (Second Story Press), about the fight to get a new school for the Northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat.

The remote Cree community was in the news last year when its severe housing shortage came to light. Shannen and the Dream for a School draws attention to another aspect of the Attawapiskat crisis. From the First Nation Communities Read press release:

In 1979, a fuel leak contaminated the school in Attawapiskat, a Cree community in northern Ontario. In 2008, after years of the community’s children attending school in woefully inadequate portables, 13-year-old Shannen and her friends decided to challenge the situation. They made a YouTube video describing the poor conditions and won attention and support locally and across Canada.

Buoyed by the support, Shannen and her fellow students decided to turn their grade-eight class trip into a visit to Ottawa and the opportunity to speak to the Canadian government. Shannen spoke to federal politicians about Aboriginal children’s need for opportunities to succeed. Her passion became a rallying point for Attawapiskat and Canada and, the following summer, Shannen was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize. Regrettably, Shannen will never see her dream fulfilled. She died in a car crash in 2010.

Wilson’s account of Shannen’s story was published last fall as part of Second Story’s Kids Power series and was selected as a winner by a six-member jury of librarians from First Nation public libraries in Ontario, with support from Southern Ontario Library Service.

The community reading program, launched in 2003, is designed to “[encourage] family literacy and intergenerational storytelling, and [promote] the publication, sharing, and understanding of Aboriginal voices and experiences.” The winning title will be promoted via a poster campaign at public libraries in Ontario, Manitoba, B.C., and the Yukon.