Thirteen-year-old Shannen Koostachin understood that her fight for a proper school in her home community was more than just a request for infrastructure; she was also demanding the same opportunities for a healthy, prosperous future that are given to other Canadian children. In this excerpt, Charlie Angus documents a turning point in the campaign for a proper school, in May 2008, when Shannen Koostachin faced the Minister of Indian Affairs. Excerpt, pp. 121-124 The annual grade eight trip was a rite of passage for students at J. R. Nakogee School. It gave them the chance to see things that they might otherwise see only on television. The trip included visits to Canada’s Wonderland, Niagara Falls, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Eaton Centre. But this class decided that they had an obligation to speak directly with members of the government. Shannen Koostachin, Chris Kataquapit, and Marvin Kioke wrote formally to Strahl requesting a personal meeting: “We want to talk about our new school. We were promised that three years ago. But in December you stopped the school project. We are asking to have a meeting with you. Please don’t forget about us again.” They signed the letter “The Forgotten Children of Attawapiskat.” I didn’t think that the minister’s staff would allow the meeting to happen. Why would the minister put himself in a face-to-face meeting with children only to tell them that they weren’t getting a school? The optics would be brutal. Strahl’s office, however, confirmed by email that the minister was willing to sit down and talk to the students. This seemed like a very good sign. With the news that the meeting would take place, there was a growing sense of excitement. The trip to Ottawa just happened to coincide with the National Day of Action for Indigenous People on Parliament Hill. Thousands of people were going to protest, and when word spread that the now famous children of Attawapiskat were going to join the march there was immediate buzz among grassroots activists. The youth believed that they had momentum on their side, and they felt like a children’s army marching to Ottawa. “We’ve been doing a lot of work on this campaign,” teacher Carinna Pellatt told Timmins Daily Press reporter Chelsea Romain. She explained that the letters from students in other parts of the country had given the youth of Attawapiskat a sense of determination and hope. The students brought a gift for the minister—a jar full of contaminated soil from the playground that stank of diesel fuel. The grade eight class nominated three student leaders to represent the community: Chris Kataquapit, Solomon Rae, and Shannen Koostachin. On May 28, 2008, a press conference was held on Parliament Hill at which the youth spoke to national media for the first time. The issue of educational disparities in First Nations communities was now firmly on the media radar. The student press conference drew a large crowd of Ottawa veteran reporters. “We have been called the Forgotten Children of Attawapiskat,” declared a very nervous but determined Kataquapit, “but we are forgotten no longer. Thanks to the efforts of thousands of students across Canada, the children have a voice.” Solomon Rae didn’t read from notes. He had memorized his statement, which sounded like a litany of broken promises to the children: “I am here on behalf of my younger sisters and brothers who don’t know what a real school looks like…I am here on behalf of the students who have already lost hope and dropped out because they have no hope, even before grade five…Our message is simple. We want what every other kid in Canada takes for granted—we want a school, a safe school, a clean school, a school that will give our young people hope.” In her speech, Shannen revealed traces of the leadership role that she would soon take on. She was frustrated with adults who failed to live up to their obligations to the children: “As young people, we have been told to stand up for our promises, but our own government cannot keep a promise that they have made three times. Minister Chuck Strahl needs to keep his word. How can he tell us that we don’t have a right to a new school? All students in Canada deserve a learning environment that they are proud to attend. That gives them hope. We want the same hope as every other Canadian student.” The meeting with Strahl was set for the following morning, just prior to the national march of Indigenous activists and supporters. The youth leaders were part of a larger Attawapiskat delegation that included Chief Theresa Hall, Grand Chief Stan Louttit, and community elders Annabella Iahtail and John Matinas. The plan was for the youth to speak to Strahl about the conditions that they faced, and then Louttit would lay out options for getting the school project back on track. These options included putting the school back on the capital planning list or asking Strahl to commit to a tuition arrangement so that the community could get a bank loan and build the school itself. Prior to the meeting, Grand Chief Louttit spoke with the three youth to prepare them for what was to come. “Speak from the heart, and speak the truth, and you will be fine,” he said to them. The delegation was then ushered into a large, plush room with rich cornice mouldings. To break the ice, Strahl pointed to the surroundings and asked them, “What do you think of my office?” Shannen didn’t miss a beat. “I told him I wished I had a classroom that was as nice as his office that he met in every day.” As they sat down, Strahl pre-empted the discussion by telling them matter of factly that the school wouldn’t be built. It simply wasn’t on the government’s list of priorities. The delegation was stunned. What was the purpose of the meeting if the government refused to discuss options for addressing the educational needs ofAttawapiskat students? “We invite you to come to our community to understand our living situation,” Chris Kataquapit offered. But the answer was no. The elders began to cry. Shannen didn’t want to cry in front of the government, so she stormed out of the meeting. Stan Louttit went out into the hall to find her. “This is not how the meeting ends,” he told her comfortingly. “You need to go back in there and be a leader.” Shannen wasn’t just sad but also furious. Nonetheless, she listened to him. As she stepped back into the room, Strahl was telling the delegation that the meeting was over because he had to attend to other issues. Shannen stepped forward to shake his hand. And this is how she later retold the story to media and supporters: “He told me he couldn’t stay for more of the meeting because he had other things to do. We were very upset. The elders who were with us had tears in their eyes. . . . But when he was about to leave, I looked at him straight in the eyes and said, ‘Oh, we’re not going to quit, we’re not going to give up!’” Children of the Broken Treaty was released Aug. 22 from University of Regina Press.