Cover of Children of the Broken Treaty written by Charlie Angus.| Image source: allevents.in
Children of the Broken Treaty takes an in-depth look at the historical events leading up to an inspirational campaign led by the youth of the Attawapiskat First Nation and Shannen Koostachin, to have a school built in their reserve community. Children of the Broken Treaty was written by NDP MP Charlie Angus, and Critic for Indigenous and Northern Affairs. Since 2004 Angus has been the elected MP to represent the Timmins-James Bay riding. He is an advocate for First Nations rights, most notably in education. The book follows the history of the signing of Treaty 9; its significance to Indigenous leaders and community; how the treaty promises were broken; the impacts of residential schools; and the paternalistic control the government strives to keep over Indigenous people. Not long after the signing of Treaty 9, Indigenous residents, “found that they had become social and political hostages of the Department of Indian Affairs.”
By using extensive documentation through the Freedom of Information Act, Angus connects the residential school history to struggles that Indigenous people continue to face in modern times. Angus describes what children endured while attending residential schools. He shares the story of Edmund Metatawabin, a boy who was tortured by being electrocuted in a homemade electric chair at St. Anne’s Residential School. Metatawabin states, “I was a little boy and I had to climb up into the chair because I was still small. ….when the current went through me, my legs shot out straight in front of me and were shaking…..I cannot describe how intense the pain was.”
After the residential schools closed, Indigenous communities suffered through the 60’s scoop and underfunding which led to problems with infrastructure, clean water, healthcare and most importantly education for reserve communities. “In 2007 a number of First Nations infrastructure projects across the country were cancelled in order to pay for the new Conservative government’s budget promise to address water quality on reserves. The Attawapiskat school project was just one of the many educational projects cancelled. The decision by the Conservative government to walk away from its commitment to build a school in the community resulted in a grassroots campaign kicked off by its young people.”
Angus then introduces the work of Shannen Koostachin, a young Cree girl with a lot of moxie, who would lead the nation’s youth on a campaign for a school to be built in her home community of Attawapiskat before tragically passing away in a car accident. Her request to other Canadian youth for help went viral on Youtube. After getting invited to Ottawa only to be told their community wouldn’t be getting a school at all, she then stood up to former Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Chuck Strahl and, “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 is a page turner that was hard to put down, I read it in two sittings. It is both disheartening and inspiring. It’s disheartening to see the ongoing struggle First Nations people face with an adversarial government, yet inspiring to see that there are Indigenous warriors ready to make positive change happen. Even though Attawapiskat got their school in the end, the fight still continues to close the gap in education funding and opportunities for Indigenous children.
Charlie Angus Bio
Born and raised in Timmins, Charlie was elected MP for Timmins—James Bay in 2004, and re-elected in 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2015. He entered federal politics to stop the continual erosion of Northern Ontario’s voice on the national scene. Maclean’s magazine has named Charlie “Top Constituency MP in Canada” and as part of Canada’s “Top 25 Most influential Power List.” In 2006, the Toronto Star singled him out as one of the ten most effective opposition members of Parliament. Charlie has fought hard for every constituent in his riding, including the crisis-ridden Cree communities on the James Bay Coast. He was a development officer and negotiator for the Algonquin Nation in Quebec. He worked with the Algonquins of Barriere Lake on their co-management plan for their traditional territory.