Attawapiskat Seeks to Realize Shannen’s Dream

A new school in Attawapiskat brings Shannon's Dream forward

Shannon's DreamATTAWAPISKAT- An open letter to future Members of Parliament: On June 1,2010, there occurred a tragic event which shook the soul of our community.

On that day, a youth member of our community departed our community when she was the victim of a single car vehicle accident near New Liskeard, Ontario, her name was Shannen Koostachin.

Her sudden passing was a tragedy not only for her family, our community, but also the dreams of our youth as a whole. For when she passed, our community lost a part of its soul, and a future leader of our people.

In her all too short travel with us, she had faced many challenges, not only those facing every growing child in Canada, but those unique to her.

For Shannen, it was her desire to attain for herself, and her friends the basic expectation to receive a proper basic education in order to provide a foundation to foster the growth potential in each young child.

In her home community of Attawapiskat, her local school was contaminated by a diesel fuel spill , which went uncorrected, and ultimately health conditions got so serious that Chief and Council for the protection of the children order the school closed for the health and safety of the children, and employees of the school.

ShannonAs that time, a temporary school was constructed consisting of manufactured portables, and the abandoning of several essential programs such as a library, and proper gymnasium, and extra curicular facilities.

The school that was once the heart of our community, a place of pride, a place to involve the community and showcase our achievements, a place to grow. It has now become a place of shame, the presence of a large fences off area, overgrown with weeds is reflective of the spirit that now exists within our community.

Throughout the years, there have been many promises made by numerous people, all of who had said the nice things to say, but still no school has been built, and the area of the former school is fenced off, and overgrown with weeds, a cancerous hole in the heart of our community.

It was Shannen’s dream that she and her classmates be afforded the opportunities that are given to all children of Canada, the right to a safe learning environment, and the right of each person to obtain the highest goals for which they strive. These are goals that are universal, and these have been taken away from us, but the contamination of our land by diesel fuel and the lack of subsequent efforts to correct this item.

As we approach the first anniversary of the passing of Shannen, and the eleventh anniversary of the passing of our school. As a member, Chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation, and a single parent, I have a basic question for each member to answer; “Will you assist Shannen realize her dreams of having a proper school be built for the future generations of children, so they can have the basic tools to achieve their goals?”

That is not an unreasonable request of our leaders.

On behalf of my members, I look forward to receiving your comments on how you as Members of Parliament can assist the present and youth in realizing their full potential.


Chief Theresa Spence


Shannen’s Dream

Attawapiskat First Nation

Attawapiskat First Nation Education Authority

Here is, from INAC the timeline:

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada

December 1996 – Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) provides $677,330 to Attawapiskat for site clean up. This is in accordance with a signed agreement to remediate soil contaminated by fuel spilled after construction of the school.

November 1997 – INAC, with the First Nation, provides a completion report and advises that remediation in the areas near the school and teacherages is complete.

May 11, 2000 – The Attawapiskat First Nation Education Authority, with the support of a Band Council Resolution, closes the J.R. Nakogee Elementary School effective May 11, 2000 due to health and safety concerns. Options are discussed to address the need for school facilities, as well as further remediation of the school site. Among the options presented, INAC offers to fully remediate the soil around the existing elementary school and conduct repairs to the school roof, heating and ventilation system.

August 2000 – INAC agrees to provide funding for the First Nation’s chosen option of temporary school facilities consisting of seven duplex portable classrooms and two four-plex buildings for administration and resource space. Additionally, it is agreed that a thorough review of the contamination would be conducted to determine the extent of the problem.

Fall 2000 – January 2005 – Project approval for the temporary school facilities is granted at an estimated cost of $3,288,900. Construction commences in October 2000 and building inspections are completed in March 2001.

The Attawapiskat First Nation Education Authority takes possession of the temporary school on March 31, 2001. The project manager submits the final project completion report in March 2003.

To ensure readiness should future funds for construction become available, INAC meets with First Nation officials to prepare the terms of reference for a project manager to begin the process required to build a new school. A proposal call is issued and closed on February 17, 2005.

March 3, 2005 – At a meeting in Sudbury, the consultants who submitted proposals are interviewed by the former Chief, the Education Authority and INAC. A project manager is hired to develop the school capital planning study.

April 2005 – INAC funds approximately $250,000 for modifications to the high school to move servicing infrastructure (electrical, computer connections, etc.) from the elementary to the secondary school.

November 21, 2005 – The Attawapiskat First Nation Education Authority submits projections on school enrolment and expenditures for the proposed elementary school. A review of this document finds that enrolment projections are inflated and could not be supported. The proposed school does not conform to the school space accommodation standards with which INAC must comply.

December 5, 2005 – The Regional Director General for Ontario Region, in a letter to Attawapiskat First Nation, agrees to explore an Alternative to Education Capital Approach to provide the finances necessary to construct an elementary school with the caveat that the project must conform to government standards and guidelines. It is later determined that INAC did not have the authority to apply the Alternative to Education Capital Approach to this project so this approach could not be used.

March 14, 2006 – INAC receives a Band Council Resolution (BCR) requesting funding in the amount of $194,718 to prepare a school capital planning study.

May 15, 2006 – INAC issues a funding approval letter confirming funding in the amount of $194,718 to prepare a school capital planning study.

December 4, 2006 – In a letter to the First Nation, the INAC Minister states that the school capital planning study will be the basis for the Preliminary Project Approval submission. These documents are the next steps in the funding approval process should funds become available. In response to the First Nation’s request for a Ministerial Loan Guarantee for a bank loan, the Minister writes that Ministerial Loan Guarantees cannot be used to guarantee loans for schools.

March 2007 – In response to a submission from the First Nation, INAC approves construction of an addition to the existing high school, including three new classrooms and washrooms. INAC approves funding ($1,971,500) for this work, which commences in July 2007 and is completed in June 2008.

June 30, 2007 – INAC agrees to design year enrolment projection and agrees to the size of the new school should funds for construction become available: 619 students and 5002 square metres.

September 26, 2007 – INAC advises the First Nation that the J. R. Nakogee School is not in INAC’s Ontario Region Long Term Five Year Capital Plan.

November 29, 2007 – The First Nation submits a revised final draft copy of the school capital planning study to the Department. INAC forwards suggested revisions to the study to the First Nation and awaits the final version of the study.

2008-2009 – INAC provides Attawapiskat with $1,083,900 in formula-funded Operations and Maintenance funding (O&M) specifically for the school. First Nations may use school operations and maintenance (O&M) for a variety of activities such as cleaning and custodial costs and minor repairs or maintenance costs. Since 2001-2002 INAC provides almost $8 million to Attawapiskat in formula-funded O&M (approximately $1 million annually).

April 1, 2008 – Officials from the Minister’s Office and the Department meet with the leadership of the First Nation. Again, INAC officials inform the First Nation that a new elementary school is not in the Ontario Region Long Term Five Year Major Capital Plan.

May 5, 2008 – Attawapiskat First Nation submits a funding application and Band Council Resolution requesting $148,164 for the design stage of the School Demolition Project.

June 12 and 13, 2008 – INAC officials meet with the First Nation. At the meeting, terms of reference were developed for a working group to explore alternative sources of funding for a new elementary school, rather than waiting for it to be placed on the Ontario Region’s Long Term Five Year Major Capital Plan. The First Nation chooses not to participate in all scheduled meetings. INAC remains willing to participate in this process.

June 24, 2008 – Health Canada issues an inspection report on the school portables indicating that the current classroom facilities present no health or safety concerns.

June 26, 2008 – INAC issues a funding approval letter for the design stage of the school demolition project in the amount of $148,164. The plan for the demolition is complete.

October 31, 2008 – The tender for the actual demolition closes. INAC provides approximately $850,000 for the demolition project which includes three buildings-former school, former water treatment plant and fire hall-the demolition of which will be delayed until a new fire hall is constructed.

November 24, 2008 – INAC officials meet with the community and First Nation leaders in Attawapiskat. The First Nation agrees to the plan to demolish the old school.

December 5, 2008 – The First Nation and the Education Authority notifies INAC that they will no longer participate in the Working Group.

January 23, 2009 – Health Canada holds a meeting in the community to discuss health and safety issues that relate to the demolition project. Health Canada reports the meeting went well and there is general agreement to proceed with the demolition.

February 2009 – Health Canada does health and safety assessments on a routine basis in all First Nation schools and one was conducted in June 2008, and another in February 2009, in both the school and the portables in Attawapiskat.

March 2009 – Health Canada environmental health officers provide on-site particulate air sampling during the demolition. Daily testing is done from March 8 to 12 (except March 11 because of a severe winter storm). Results from all test sites do not indicate any health or safety concerns.

March 13, 2009 – Senior INAC officials from the Ontario regional office hold a conference call with Chief Theresa Hall and two First Nation consultants. INAC officials commit to expediting the Preliminary Project Approval (PPA) process to allow funds to flow for planning of soil remediation once demolition is completed.

March 16, 2009 – The First Nation notifies INAC that demolition of the former elementary school in Attawapiskat is complete. Health Canada conducts air quality tests throughout and following the demolition and finds no health or safety concerns. INAC provides nearly $1 million to plan and complete the demolition. The First Nation selects the contractor.

March 25, 2009 – The First Nation issues a Band Council Resolution (BCR) declaring a state of emergency. Senior officials from both INAC and Health Canada hold a teleconference with the Chief and Council and it is agreed senior government officials will meet with Chief and Council and residents in the community on March 27, 2009 to discuss concerns.

March 27, 2009 – Federal and provincial officials fly to Attawapiskat First Nation to meet with the community. As the meeting is shorter than originally scheduled, the federal officials agree to return to the community on March 31, 2009.

March 31, 2009 – Federal officials meet with the First Nation Chief and Council and residents a second time in the community. At the meeting, federal officials reconfirm their commitment to work with the community to address its concerns.

April 2, 2009 – The First Nation Chief and Council request assistance from Emergency Management Ontario to evacuate community residents. INAC officials reiterate the Government of Canada is not supporting an evacuation of the community and asks the leadership of Attawapiskat to allow air quality monitoring in the community.

April 29, 2009 – INAC makes a commitment of $340,236 for the planning and design of the community’s soil remediation project.

July 2009 – Soil sampling and testing is completed. Continuous air quality monitoring is implemented. Both demolition sites (the former elementary school and the old water treatment plant) are capped with clay soil to prevent odours, vapours, and water accumulation.

July 17, 2009 – Attawapiskat First Nation submits a declaration of emergency due to a wastewater back-up. The First Nation requests that residents of eight affected housing units be evacuated from the community.

July 25, 2009 – The affected individuals are evacuated. INAC provides funding to help set up a healing lodge as temporary accommodation.

August 5, 2009 – A contractor is hired to repair the affected housing units. The work is scheduled for completion in mid-October 2009.

September 29, 2009 – The First Nation directs the contractor to stop the work on the houses so that funds for that project can be redirected towards the purchase of pre-manufactured mobile housing units.

November 2009 – The First Nation reinstates the housing renovations work.

December 8, 2009 – The First Nation is informed by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development that a new school will be built in the community.

December 16, 2009 – All evacuated residents return to the community after being accommodated in trailers donated and set up by DeBeers Canada. The Department commits $380,000 to support the retrofit of those trailers.

January 31, 2010 – The First Nation confirms the completion of the housing repairs.

February 2010 – Gravel required for construction activities is delivered by winter road. INAC approves the cost overrun for the school’s preliminary project approval submission in the amount of $340,400.

February 25, 2010 – A new working group is formed to advance the school project and assist in decision-making. It begins holding regular meetings which will continue until completion of the school project.

December 7, 2010 – INAC Minister provides assurances in the House of Commons that a new school will be built for Attawapiskat First Nation.

January 6, 2011 – Work begins to update the school’s capital planning study, and the company carrying out the work presents initial findings to the First Nation’s Chief and Council. An update of the study is expected to be completed by the end of March 2011.

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