A monument commemorating Shannen Koostachin, a young Cree activist from Attawapiskat First Nation, was unveiled earlier this month at the New Liskeard waterfront.

Koostachin led the struggle for a new school in Attawapiskat, and was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize.Tyler Fauvelle, a professional sculptor based in Sudbury, created the figurative bronze sculpture, which depicts Shannen dancing in traditional regalia and features symbols reflecting her Cree heritage.

Jules Arita Koostachin, multi-media artist and a relative of Shannen’s, led the commemorative project, which included installing butterfly benches near the monument, and the production of a short documentary film.

Kenneth (Jake) Chakasim, lecturer with the Laurentian University School of Architecture, and Rick Miller, an accomplished Canadian photographer and videographer, were part of the project team.

When the only elementary school in Attawapiskat was condemned, and replaced with portable trailers that were cold and mice-infested, Shannen Koostachin led the youth-driven Attawapiskat School Campaign, persistently advocating for a “safe and comfy” school.

The students eventually succeeded, but Shannen didn’t live to see it – she was 15 when she died in a motor vehicle accident in 2010.

Family, friends and community started Shannen’s Dream, a campaign for decent schools for all First Nations children across Canada, and for quality, culturally-based education.

 A monument commemorating Shannen Koostachin, a young Cree activist from Attawapiskat First Nation, was unveiled earlier this month.

A monument commemorating Shannen Koostachin, a young Cree activist from Attawapiskat First Nation, was unveiled earlier this month.

Shannen’s family joined friends and dignitaries to honour and lovingly remember Koostachin. Among the dignitaries were Theresa Spence (former chief of Attawapiskat First Nation), Charlie Angus (MP), and Carman Kidd (mayor of Temiskaming Shores).

The solemn event included a traditional blessing and smudge ceremony.

“I’ve attended several unveilings of my work,” said Fauvelle, “but this one was different. When the bronze of Shannen was unveiled, there wasn’t a sound. No one spoke. Then, I saw all the tears, and the quiet smiles. It was an emotional reminder that this proud young activist, admired by so many, had also been a daughter, a sister, a friend.”

Fauvelle sculpts in clay and casts his work in bronze. His public art includes commemorations of the Wendat people, John Graves Simcoe, famous prospectors of the Porcupine gold rush, Ukrainian cultural hero Taras Shevchenko, and Canadian folk/country singer, Stompin’ Tom Connors.

He is currently working on a life-sized bronze of Francis Pegahmagabow, the most highly-decorated First Nations soldier in Canadian history.

sud.editorial@sunmedia.ca – Special to The Star

Photo: Sculpture by Tyler Fauvelle