Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Unbearable Cuteness of Being

Our bedtime routine with Jonas goes something like this: He watches "In the Night Garden" while sitting in his Elmo chair. Then we tell him to turn off the TV, which he does. He takes his blanky and walks up the stairs with us to our bedroom. Next we read three bedtime stories (or storieses as Christine likes to say).

When we put Jonas to sleep in his crib, we make sure to say "night night" to all his stuffed animals. Lastly we say "night night Lolo" to Little J.

Todaym Jonas was playing on a blanket in the living room. All of a sudden, one by one, he starts saying "night night" to his animals and then gives each of them a kiss - complete with the sound effect. It was absolutely adorable. It was one of those moments I was glad I work from home.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Fight Worth Fighting

The following is the text of a speech I delivered to Porcupine Toastmasters on Nov. 4. As always, pretend that Barack Obama is delivering it and it becomes much more captivating.

Good evening fellow Toastmasters.

We’re very fortunate to have such a wonderful space to come to every Tuesday evening. In the winter months, when the wind is howling and the snow is blowing outside, we’re safe and warm. There are no outside distractions. We can focus our energy on becoming public speakers.

Imagine for a moment if we weren’t so lucky. Imagine that we gathered in a portable where the door wouldn’t shut properly. Imagine we had to wear our winter coats just to stay warm. Imagine our classroom gave us headaches and made us nauseous.

We wouldn’t stand for it – I guarantee you. Why then, should we expect the school children of Attawapiskat to learn in such deplorable conditions?

Deplorable learning conditions have been a fact of life for an entire generation of Attawapiskat children. And yet, the federal government continues to overlook their needs. A new school is desperately needed in Attawapiskat. We cannot afford to wait any longer.

Here’s some background information.

In 1979, there was a diesel spill near J.R. Nagokee School. 30,000 gallons of diesel was spilled. Let me say that again: 30,000 gallons of diesel was spilled Children and teachers started getting sick. They suffered severe headaches and nausea. The federal government did nothing to investigate these claims.

The Attawapiskat Education Authority discovered the leak under the school in 2000. Parents pulled their children out of school. Only then did the federal government provide portables. The Indian Affairs Minister at the time, Robert Nault, agreed to get the ball rolling for a new school. This was 8 years ago.

A new school for the children of Attawapiskat has been promised by three Indian Affairs Minister from two political parties. In August of 2007, then Minister Jim Prentice and the community agreed on plans for a new school. Construction was supposed to begin this spring. But it didn’t happen.

Chuck Strahl, the new Indian Affairs Minister, cancelled the project. He didn’t delay it. He outright cancelled it. Mr. Strahl stated that other communities needed a school more than Attawapiskat. Mr. Strahl also said there were no health and safety concerns in Attawapiskat.

No health and safety concerns? Is that so?

My friends, the diesel under the portables has caused the ground to shift. This has caused the windows to be jammed shut and created gaps under the doors, allowing cold air in. Emergency doors have been sealed shut.

I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sound safe to me.

Attendance has dropped considerably as the conditions have worsened. Children as young as 10 are not attending school regularly.

What would you do if your child, or grandchild, or niece or nephew was forced to learn under this conditions? What would you do?

We wouldn’t tolerate that in Timmins. They wouldn’t tolerate it in Toronto. They wouldn’t tolerate it in Nova Scotia. They wouldn’t tolerate it in British Columbia.

But it’s been tolerated for close to 30 years in Attawapiskat.

Luckily, this sad story has some heroes. I’d like to tell you about a few of them.

Shannen Koostachin is 14. She lives in Attawapiskat. Shannen is survivor of JR Nakogee Public School.

Chris Kataquapit is 13 years old. He also lives in Attawapiskat. Chris is also a survivor of JR Nakogee Public School.

Jonah Sutherland is also 13. Jonah is a survivor of JR Nakogee Public School.

Serena Koostachin is a little older. She’s 16. And yes, Serena is a survivor of JR Nakogee Public School.

Shannen, Chris, Jonah and Serena continue to fight for a new school. In fact, they’ve have sent a report to the United Nations charging that the federal government has violated their human rights.

A paragraph in Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states, and I quote: the government "shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety and health.”

It sounds like a violation of human rights to me.

I’ve spoken to our Member of Parliament, Charlie Angus, about this issue. He assures me that the students will not stop fighting until a new school is built. But they need our help. There are a couple of things we can do.

First off, I encourage you to sign an online petition as a show of support. I have the website address. Please see me if you would like it.

Secondly, you should explain your position in a letter to Minister Chuck Strahl. There is power in numbers, my friends. Let’s send the government a very clear message that we value our young people.

Just to let everyone know, I will be sending a copy of this speech to Minister Strahl.

In conclusion, let us leave here tonight with a renewed purpose. Let us speak for those who voice is silenced. Let us remember that our future is in the hands of our children. Let us never forget that we have the power to help the children of Attawapiskat.

Madame Toastmaster.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Our Little Pumpkin