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Teen takes up late cousin's call to improve native schools

Chelsea Edwards, a 16-year-old student, moved 300 kilometres from her home in the tiny community of Attawapiskat to Timmins, Ontario in order to receive a better education. She is seen in Toronto at the Native Canadian Centre on November 17, 2011.

JENNIFER ROBERTS/jennifer roberts The Globe and Mail

Chelsea Jane Edwards's home is in Attawapiskat on the west side of James Bay, but she is attending high school in Timmins, Ont. – 300 kilometres and a world away from the tiny community where she was born.

The courses at the school in Attawapiskat did not challenge her in the way she knew a good curriculum should, the 15-year-old says.

"I am not saying that to criticize my community, but I was on the honour roll for both semesters and I know that I could continue elsewhere and do a good job elsewhere also," she explained in a telephone interview.

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In Bella Bella on Campbell Island off the coast of British Columbia, 16-year-old Korin Humchitt attends the school run by the Heiltsuk First Nation.

He is frustrated that he has to take some courses by correspondence. But Mr. Humchitt, who wants to be a plastic surgeon, said he is glad he could go to high school in his own community and that his teachers are encouraging his academic success.

Chelsea, on the other hand, said that even the most encouraging teachers could not have made the J.R. Nakogee Elementary School in Attawapiskat a nurturing learning environment.

The Nakogee students attend class in a collection of mice-infested portables. "In the winters it would always be cold and a lot of drafts would come in," she said.

It was a situation that spurred Chelsea's cousin, Shannen Koostachin, to travel to Ottawa to press the federal government for something better. She became the voice of a generation of reserve children and, at 14, she was nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize.

Ms. Koostachin died last year in a car crash. And Chelsea is now the spokeswoman for her cause, which is called Shannen's Dream. She is also trying to graduate from high school.

To do that she has to board with people in Timmins. And, like Shannen, she has dreams. "I want to be a lawyer," Chelsea said, "or go into politics."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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