For eight-year-old Kaida-Lynn Aquash, reading in front of people isn’t something that she’s very fond of.
But after the unveiling of a new Indigenous-focused book vending machine at the N’Amerind Friendship Centre in London, Ont., those nerves were driven awake by excitement as she was the first person to flip through the pages.
On Tuesday, Start2Finish, a non-profit organization working to promote the health and well-being of children through fitness and education, unveiled the final of four book vending machines in Canada for the Indigenous Literacy Enhancement Project in London.
For a couple of free tokens provided by the centre, children have an all-access pass to a range of different stories written by Indigenous authors.
“It’s just an amazing project to be a part of,” said Sheree Plain, the Akwe:Go program co-ordinator at the N’Amerind Friendship Centre. “I feel like the reconciliation part of this as well is important. To understand that it’s non-Indigenous people and a non-Indigenous organization that are helping with this.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action include several recommendations for education as well as language and culture in order “to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.”
Brian Warren, executive director of Start2Finish, said the project has been in the works for quite some time as the organization has been collecting input from primarily First Nation communities across Canada for the last 17 years.
“What we wanted to do is make sure that we had culturally relevant literature that would allow them (children) to see their identity not only for their families and reconnection to the land, but also to identify themselves,” said Warren.
Sponsored by TD Bank and in partnership with First Book Canada, Warren said the Indigenous Literacy Enhancement Project will distribute about 8,000 books to the various vending machines across Canada over the next three years.
Two hundred books will be supplied quarterly to the vending machine at the the N’Amerind Friendship Centre.
The other machines are located in Ottawa, Toronto and Calgary, with the possibility of a launch this fall in Atlantic Canada as well as Winnipeg.
Warren added that the goal is to continue expanding the project afterwards.
“I’m really proud of the project,” said Warren. “An unintended consequence of COVID was a lot of children who were in marginalized communities did not have access to education. And we believe that we’re actually bridging that learning lag by making sure that we put culturally relevant literature in their hands.”
From tackling football players in the CFL to addressing larger issues such as colonialism, Warren described the vending machines as symbols of hope.
He added that he hopes children will understand that the tokens needed to unlock the written world of stories act not only as a key to gaining cultural knowledge, but also as a special reminder that there are more available opportunities for them to invest in their futures.
He pointed over to the orange vending machine to say, “this project recognizes that every child matters.”
— With files from Global News’ Andrew Graham.