Thursday, September 21, 2017

UNESCO International Literacy Day at Maskwacis Cultural College

It’s been almost two years since the Government of Canada published the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools Recommendations. Since then, I see Alberta public libraries selecting more Indigenous resources and doing collaborative programming with Rotary Clubs or associations such as Community Adult Learning. Regional Library Systems have received funding from the Province of Alberta to address gaps in library services. Yet there is more work to be done to improve literacy outcomes and the indigenous/settler relationship. This fall I increased my understanding of reconciliation — on UNESCO International Literacy Day, September 13, 2017, I visited Maskwacis Cultural College where Learning Team Leader, Manisha Khetarpal, had organized a day of presentations. I learned that cross-cultural understanding of literacy is fundamental. Through storytelling and developing digital literacy skills we can exchange information to help with this learning. And libraries can provide the space, tools, expertise and opportunities for developing cross-cultural awareness.

The day opened with Dr. Claudine Louis urging students to reclaim knowledge that has brought us here. She said elders are wise and have a lot to share. How have you survived? What knowledge is embedded in language? Work to build relationships and make your own definition of literacy. “You are what your ancestors prayed for,” she said.

Voices of Amiskwaciy, Stories from Indigenous Edmonton, is an Edmonton Public Library initiative to create positive change through digital literacy. Carla Iacchelli and Lese Skidmore from EPL shared that the project is grounded in the values of collaboration, respect, sharing, learning and growing. People can make a 2 – 5 minute story, video or recording of a personal experience, add music or other multimedia, and publish it through the Amiskwaciy web site. EPL provides learning support for writing, publishing, technology skills, multimedia software editing skills, and ethics in storytelling. To participate you can borrow a digital storytelling kit, attend a workshop, or contact staff individually. Find out more at
Then Anishinaabe visitor, Ningwakwe George, gave a presentation: Reconciliation Begins with Me. She showed how individuals can do the hard work of moving forward with reconciliation. Putting positive energy into the world is a form of self-care, and an integral part of the process for her. We have to dig deep, uncover our gifts and share them. Her presentation was short but her message stayed with me throughout the day.

After lunch, Dale Saddleback taught about the importance of learning about the history and meaning of treaties today, and to understand treaties through a cultural lens. His presentation titled, The Spirit and Intent of Treaty 6, brought my attention to the learning resources on the website of the Office of the Treaty Commission based in Saskatchewan, and the book: We are all Treaty People. You can get a free download of the Saskatchewan Treaty Commission’s vision for reconciliation here:

After my day at Maskwacis Cultural College, I see that Alberta public libraries can work to close educational gaps and change mindsets by being more inclusive of Indigenous people, languages and worldview. The possibilities are endless for how we can work to create welcoming library environments. Libraries can provide more opportunities to learn Indigenous languages, and offer services and information to help people develop cross-cultural understanding. I hope more libraries learn from projects like Amiskwaciy and give access to physical and digital spaces, tools and expertise to help in information sharing. I feel grateful for this day of learning and I look forward to continuing to develop my understanding of the reconciliation process.

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