It’s taken over a decade of persistence and gathering support, but the people of Frog Lake First Nation (on Treaty 6 territory, about 25 km from the Saskatchewan border) are elated to open their first library--the first provincially connected Indigenous library in Alberta with a board made entirely of band members.
“It’s been a long time need in the community,” said Mary Jane Quinney, who has been a teacher, vice principal and Frog Lake Education Authority superintendent. Quinney recalls research showing communities with playgrounds and libraries had better educational outcomes, so in 2011 when band recreation director Cliffton Cross secured funds to build a playground, the next step was to get a library. Later on, the Rotary Club offered to help make it a reality.
“Although this was a generous plan, I was aware finding ways to start something is not as difficult as finding ways to sustain programming,” recalled Quinney, who learned of a provincial program to get libraries onto reserves. Years of negotiations with the Frog Lake Education Authority, province and Northern Lights library system followed.
“Through changes in staff, services and of course Covid, we now have a library board,” beamed Quinney.
Located in the reserve’s Tus Tuk Ee Skaws High School theatre and common area, the library is also a community space for storytelling and drumming. Plans are to eventually move into their own building, which will also house Frog Lake First Nation’s historical archives.
The library’s collection covers the breadth of Indigenous topics and concerns, from profiles of Alberta’s Aboriginal elders to traditional Métis plant uses and reconciliation issues.
“Although most of our collection is Indigenous, our patrons have access to all the books in the Northern Lights Library system,” Quinney said. “The Indigenous population is interested in sharing through the arts, literature and film, and validating their worldview. That’s why we’re seeing an increase in Indigenous works."
Libraries in Alberta are taking this to heart, said Rose Reid, Indigenous outreach specialist with Marigold Library System in southern Alberta.
The Northern Lights Library System has a prairie Indigenous e-book collection, with publications from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. In 2019, the Calgary Public Library worked with Treaty 7 writers and illustrators to create children's books in their own language. And this summer, in partnership with the Calgary library, Reid and a Stoney Nakoda woman did a reading of a picture book written in Stoney, English and French.
“I’m eager to support all initiatives they have to preserve their culture," said Reid, who shapes programming for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation's three bands on Treaty 7 territory between Calgary and Canmore.
Reid, who is of Metis heritage, also does popular video reviews of Indigenous books.
Started three years ago in partnership with Voices of the Land – a digital space developed by the Edmonton Public Library for sharing Indigenous content – Reid’s engaging and informative reviews offer listeners a gateway into the widening pool of Indigenous writing talent.
Reid says the growing demand for Indigenous works is in part an outcome of the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations, which include language revitalization. But it’s not the main influence.
“I think Indigenous culture’s time has come. There’s a real interest from people who are not part of the Indigenous community to learn more about it,” she said. “The Truth and Reconciliation report affects everyone’s lives, because we’re all treaty.”
Reid says she hopes her book reviews inspire Canada’s diverse Indigenous cultures to create their own material. Mary Jane Quinney has the same aspiration.
“Our library is a small but vital part in revitalization of our Cree culture and language,” Quinney said. “It’s our hope we can be of service to other communities interested in Indigenous knowledge.”
Reid’s book reviews are at froglakelibrary.ca, or https://voicesoftheland.org/collection/indigenous-book-reviews-rose-reid . The Prairie Indigenous Ebook Collection is at https://www.nlls.ab.ca//eresources/prarie-indigenous-ebook-collection