Children of the Broken Treaty: Canada's Lost Promise and One Girl's Dream
By Charlie Angus
University of Regina Press, 2015
Reviewed by Will Postma
Children of the Broken Treaty is a highly readable account of the indigenous young people of James Bay. Angus outlines their struggle for an education equal in quality and funding to that of other Canadian youth.
But the book is much more. It lays out the premises for establishing First Nations residential schools in the late 1800s. It paints pictures of officials, indigenous leaders, and legislation (including the story of Treaty 9), and tells the story of promises delayed or simply not delivered. The book is a window into the determination of young people for fairness and justice. Angus provides an important frame that gives context to the news stories not only of First Nations children and the struggles they continue face, but also the dreams they pursue.
One such dream-pursuer was Shannen Koostachin, a 13-year-old, grade eight Cree student from Attawapiskat. Her school had been condemned and closed because it was deemed unsafe for children. In 2008, Shannen began a campaign for a new school to replace the dilapidated set of classroom portables they had been using for eight years.
Shannen died tragically in a car accident in 2010. But Shannen’s Dream—the youth-led campaign—became much more. It led to a unanimously-approved 2012 Parliamentary motion to close the funding gap faced by First Nations children. Angus’ storytelling comes alive by virtue of his long interaction with the youth of Attawapiskat and other Northern Ontario communities. He has served as MP for Timmins—James Bay since 2004.
Children of the Broken Treaty weaves together thoughtful narratives and stories of young people. It also includes the stories of many other Canadian schools that supported Shannen’s Dream with their own letter-writing and fundraising activities.
Angus believes strongly that governments at all levels are key actors in upholding responsibilities to all, especially the most vulnerable. But this is not about pity; rather it’s about equity, justice, and staying true to promises and laws made. Only then can we ensure that First Nations youth are given opportunities to contribute to a better Canada.