Monument commemorates youth activist Shannen Koostachin

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22-17 koostachin monument (2)It’s been more than five years since Shannen Koostachin tragically passed away. The passionate youth activist had galvanized students across Canada in her campaign to pressure the federal government to improve school facilities and First Nations curriculum in Aboriginal communities across the country. Now her distant relative Jules Koostachin is working to preserve Shannen’s memory and inspire others to take up her work.

Spurred on by the difficulties she faced in public school because of her Cree background, Jules Koostachin is raising money via an Indiegogo campaign to construct a permanent monument in New Liskeard, Ontario. The statue would be a permanent reminder of Shannen’s vision and achievements as a young activist.

A Cree from Attawapiskat First Nation, Jules is a social activist, owns a multi-media production company, VisJuelles Productions, and works at Laurentian University in Sudbury.

Shannen attended Attawapiskat’s infamous elementary school that consisted of cold, rat-infested portables after a diesel spill had contaminated local school grounds. After moving to New Liskeard to pursue a better education in a “real” high school, she and family friend Rose Thornton would die in a car accident in May 2010.

The bronze monument, as described on the Indiegogo fundraising site, would feature a “figurative description of Shannen in her traditional regalia, incorporating impressionistic touches… through drapery into a granite base.”

Jules and her team recently secured an extension for the campaign; it will be open to donations until June 30. To date, almost $10,000 of the $25,000 goal has been raised. Jules is hoping for more support from the local community and other First Nations communities throughout Ontario, Quebec and the rest of Canada.

22-17 koostachin monument“We really need the community support to get this happening,” Jules told the Nation, “I don’t really want it to be a corporate thing, it would be nice to keep it within the community.”

Jules’ project team consists of design and cultural consultant Kenneth Jake Chakasim, sculptor Tyler Fauvelle and documentary filmmaker Rick Miller. The four have been working for two-and-a-half years to make the monument a reality, developing a working design, securing a location in New Liskeard and documenting the entire process. Jules and Miller plan to produce a documentary film of the process and installation called “The Butterfly Monument,” that will eventually be available online as an Indigenous archive and a document of their endeavour.

“I didn’t realize what I was in for,” laughed Jules. “I just had this kind of epiphany, a sort of dream. I see the end result, but it’s been a long process.”

Jules described growing up as an Aboriginal youth in the Canadian education system. She said she struggled to learn in an unfamiliar language and has a vivid memory of being struck by a kindergarten teacher when she was five years old.

“I remember being in line at school and whispering to a friend. My teacher hit me so hard she almost knocked me out. I was the only Native girl in that class, I remember feeling like that’s why I was singled out.”

Jules credits her Cree grandparents as a source of strength in the adversity she’s faced throughout her social and academic life. She added that the strength and resolve Shannen showed as a young female First Nations activist can also be attributed to her parents Andrew Koostachin and Jenny Nakogee.

“When you have strong roots it’s really hard for someone to pluck you out.” Jules said. “It was the same thing with Shannen, thanks to her parents.”

Shannen’s legacy lives on today through “Shannen’s Dream,” the ongoing campaign for equitable education and the “safe and comfy schools” that Shannen had always hoped to see for Indigenous children. In 2014, Attawapiskat finally saw the construction of a new school, but lack of funding and infrastructure for education still plague many First Nations communities across Canada. Any additional funds raised by the memorial campaign will be donated to the struggle for accessible education for First Nations youth.

Jules and her team have now secured a location in New Liskeard for Shannen’s monument and hope to complete construction before an unveiling ceremony in October. As well as the statue, they plan to install two butterfly benches in honour of Shannen and Rose Thornton that features a plaque with one of Thornton’s favourite quotes.

“Because Shannen loved butterflies so much we thought it would be a good idea to commemorate her that way,” Jules related. “The butterfly has a cultural significance: it signifies our youth in transformation.”

Jules also noted that New Liskeard is an apt location for this sort of landmark, both because of Shannen’s connection to the community, the relative accessibility it offers to First Nations and the high traffic it receives from the Trans-Canada Highway.

“New Liskeard is a really good reminder of how many kids are in that sort of situation,” said Jules. “Kids who have to travel so far and sometimes fly in just to access education.”

Those interested in making a contribution to the Shannen Koostachin Monument campaign can do so at

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