15 year old Shannen Koostachin of Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario had a dream – to go to a real school.  A school that was safe and comfy, offering culturally based education for herself and her classmates.  She led a group of students from her remote James Bay community to Ottawa to ask why the government had broken its promise to build a new school in Attawapiskat. Their school was a makeshift portable on school grounds contaminated by diesel oil.

Shawn Atleo the British Columbia born chief of the Assembly of First Nations was in diapers when a major 1967 report concluded that aboriginal children were not succeeding in Canada's educational system.  There have been numerous reports since including a Royal Commission in 1996 which reached the same conclusion.

Sheila Fraser probably the most trusted public servant in the country delivered a parting challenge to Canada in May of 2011 after ending a ten year career as Canada's Auditor General. 

 I find it really tragic that after ten years, over thirty audits of first nations issues on reserves, a fair bit of money and hard work by public servants, conditions are worse today than ten years ago… We can’t keep doing things the same way.  Obviously it’s just not working.

The job of closing the gap between living conditions on reserves and the rest of the country remains undone despite the best efforts of many people and an awful lot of money.

Something has to change.  We can't keep doing what we've always done.  Into the gap has stepped a group of leading Canadian Foundations supported by an impressive network of agencies, advocacy groups and resources.  They wouldn't describe it this way but I will – they've decided to look beyond the people in charge.  These, after all, are prisoners of the paradigm that  caused the crisis in the first place or have failed to fix it. The foundations including McConnell, Donner, Vancouver Foundation, Lawson, RBC and Paul Martin's Aboriginal Education Initiative took to heart Einstein's observation that: “Complex problems cannot be solved at the level of awareness that created them.”

They are searching for your big ideas to assist First Nations, Métis and Inuit learners succeed in the classroom and beyond.  It can be specific to aboriginal people or it can be adapted from elsewhere.  Initiated and managed by Ashoka Canada and using their Changemakers collaborative web platform they have launched Inspiring Approaches to First Nations, Métis and Inuit Learning.

They don't want business as usual.  They don't want to reinvent the wheel.  They don't want to throw more money at an inefficient system.  They want fresh thinking. 

Since 2001 the number of aboriginal people entering the work force has increased by 25% and is more than four times the rate for other Canadians  Too many are ill equipped with the basic skills for particpation.

The 2006 Census shows 43% of aboriginals aged 25 to 64 and living on reserve have not achieved the minimum educational standards required to participate in our knowledge based economy.  This contrasts with 88% of mainstream society having at least high school graduation.

The sponsors have created an array of awards for regional, national and international and submissions as well as awards for specific areas of learning.

Early Entry Deadline is December 7th, 2011

Final Deadline is January 29, 2012

On line voting will take place between March 7th and 21st and

Winners will be announced on March 26th.  For more details click here.

Alas the solutions will come too late for Shannen Koostachin.    She died in a car accident in May of 2010 but the campaign, Shannen's Dream carries on thanks to the First Nations Caring society and the indefatigable Cindy Blackstock

Related Posts:

A Disturbing Repeat of the Residential School Nightmare

Globe and Mail update on Shannen's Dream

Huffington Post update – What if They Declared an Emergency and No One Came?

U-Tube Resource: Attawapiskat Youth launching Shannen' Dream