While national headlines shout out continued controversy over Bill C-33, the federal government’s proposed aboriginal education legislation that has been shelved after rejection by many aboriginal leaders, a small North Vancouver group has quietly accomplished its own aboriginal education project that may serve as a model for those interested in native education. . The Lionsgate Rotary Club of North Vancouver has successfully completed the delivery and installation of a library in the remote community of Oweekeno (Rivers Inlet) on the B.C. coast.
“I had the honour and privilege of visiting the village myself last year,” says club member Elizabeth Chong, “and realized their dire need for assistance with literacy. Remote communities like Oweekeno are ‘off the map’ in many ways. Our Lionsgate club decided immediately we would partner with the village through the Write to Read Project by providing a library, books, computers and Internet access.”
“Our club got excited last year when we first learned about this new literacy initiative started by Government House,” says Shirley Robertson. “Rotary is well known for its work in developing countries, but here was a chance to make a difference right in our own back yard.”
The Write to Read Project (W2R) was founded a few years by former Lt. Governor Steven Point, now retired. His successor, Her Honour Judy Guichon, has enthusiastically endorsed the project, attending the opening of three new libraries and promising to attend official ceremonies as many new libraries are built.
It was former Lt. Governor Point, an aboriginal judge, who understood the urgent need for literacy in aboriginal communities. The growth rate of the aboriginal population in Canada is five times the national average, with half the aboriginal population now under 25 years of age. Three out of five aboriginal communities are isolated, and as many as 100,000 aboriginal people have no connection to an urban centre. Almost 50 percent of aboriginal adults have no recognized educational qualifications. The average on-reserve income per year is $14,000. The youth suicide rate is six times the Canadian average. It’s a simmering volcano waiting to explode.
Lionsgate Rotary club president Peter Hansen, who attended the library opening in Oweekeno, says his club’s involvement in the Write to Read Project has been most gratifying. “We highly encourage other Rotary clubs around the province to get involved with this terrific initiative. This has been a very successful experience.”
Lionsgate Rotary Club members urge other clubs to participate in W2R Project