Sunday, 12 November 2017

Sunday November 12, 2016 Seven Fallen Feathers

Anyone who has read Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga cannot fail to be moved by this hard hitting story of ‘racism, death, and hard truths in a northern city.’ Tanya is an excellent investigative journalist who, in simple lucid prose, gets beyond the headlines regarding the death of seven Indigenous youth in Thunder Bay.

Tanya was in town recently and presented a signed copy of her book to the permanent collection of Thunder Bay Public Library (TBPL). At this event she talked about the need for a final chapter to her book – a chapter of hope and healing for the future. And I told Tanya that TBPL will be taking a lead role in helping to write that story.

The TBPL board has approved a strategy and action plan on ‘Relationship Building and Reconciliation’ with the Indigenous community. This is an ambitious five year plan to look at everything we do at TBPL – from strategy and structure to systems and culture – to ensure that we are meeting the needs of the Indigenous community. In doing so, we will make TBPL a more inclusive service, which will benefit everyone who uses it.

According to Statistics Canada, Thunder Bay has the highest proportion of Indigenous people of any major Canadian community at 12.7 per cent. That is 15,445 Indigenous people out of a total population of 121,621. And this community is also the fastest growing in Canada, with a 42.5 per cent increase since 2006.

Traditional use of libraries – via personal visits and physical circulation of books – is in decline across Canada. This has been more than made up for by the explosion in virtual use. For example, at TBPL, the total number of uses of the library has increased from 2.7 million to 3.2 million over the past ten years. But, during the same time period, personal visits to the library have fallen by 32.1%, and physical circulation has decreased by 30.7%. At the same time, virtual use of the library has gone up by 187.7% and database searches have increased by 358.6%.

We need to engage more fully with the Indigenous community if we are to increase personal visits and physical circulation. We need more people coming into our libraries and taking out books and other materials. Currently 29 per cent of Thunder Bay residents have a library card and have used it in the last 12 months. We need this figure to increase to 40, 50 and 60 percent.

Our strategy for achieving this is two-fold. First, we are transforming our libraries into Community Hubs, which will offer a wide range of educational, cultural, recreational and social services. These will include maker spaces, business incubators, nature trading stations, youth projects and social workers in residence.

And second, we are responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, and the local Inquest into the ‘Seven Fallen Feathers’, through relationship building and reconciliation. W are taking decolonisation seriously and not as a metaphor. Like other institutions in the city, most notably the Chronicle Journal, we have a responsibility to take community leadership in combating racism and challenging the negative stereotypes, myths, inaccuracies and distortions that are associated with the Indigenous community.

We have a bold vision that TBPL ‘will become the heart of the community – a welcoming and inclusive centre of social innovation and change.’ It is now time to put that vision into action, and to walk the talk.     

John Pateman   

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