Interesting Partnerships with Aboriginal Literacy Project

by Michael McCarthy • June 3, 2012 • Comments Off on Interesting Partnerships with Aboriginal Literacy Project

Shirtley-Pat Gale (left) of Williams Lake Daybreak Rotary with children at the Toosey LIbrary

A project that may have long term positive benefits for aboriginal people all across Canada started off in a decidedly modest fashion, when former District 5040 Rotary Governor Bob Blacker became aide de camp to His Honour Steven Point, the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia 2007 to 2012. Accompanying Point on various trips around the province, including those to remote First Nations reserves around the province, Blacker discovered they had much in common, including an interest in helping others.

Former Rotary District 5040 Governor Bob Blacker

The Rotary motto is “service above self,” which might also describe both Blacker and Point. The Lieutenant Governor is of aboriginal origin, which has a 10,000-year history of oral storytelling. In 2012, that translates into meaning that many First Nations people do not have a history and culture of the written word. In a computer-driven world, that means that many aboriginal people are being held back because their literacy levels are not good enough to earn high paying jobs, or access higher education.

Point has made it his mission while Lieutenant Governor to make a difference in aboriginal literacy. That meant, at the beginning of his mission, to get books into the hands of those that need them the most, children in aboriginal communities. But how to do so? How to get books donated, money to pay for purchase and transportation of libraries and construction of infrastructure? How to get volunteers to vet donated books and stock shelves? To solicit and install computers? To get the involvement and agreement of native leaders and the children?

As it turns out, you can find a Rotary club in virtually every community in North America and around the world. Blacker offered his opinion that there were several ways that Rotary could get involved in the process. The backbone of Rotary is their volunteers, small business people, and community leaders. Blacker believed if he asked Rotary clubs, in his role as Regional Governor, that the Rotarians would come up with some answers. For instance, perhaps Rotary clubs could form partnerships with those native communities that Point had visited in his role?

Langley Rotarians Grace Robertson and Mike Brown joined Britco Structures owner (and fellow Rotarian) David Taft to stock the first portable trailer with books.

The idea of matching urban businesses with remote aboriginal people seems a strange mix at first, but not so. One of the first organizations to jump at the idea was the Langley Central Rotary Club, under the volunteer leadership of Grace Robertson and Mike Brown. A book drive was organized, and books began to be donated. Then David Taft, a Langley Rotarian and businessman and owner of Britco Structures, got an idea. His company had built several portable structures for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Britco would be willing to donate a trailer to the cause, if a way could be found to ship it to a recipient native community.

In comes Williams Lake Daybreak Rotary, in the form of whirling dervish Shirley-Pat Gale, a force of nature not to be denied. In her capacity as a grants officer at Thompson Rivers University, Gale was familiar with the needs of the Toosey band, located in remote Riske Creek west of Williams Lake. She worked with Toosey chief Francis Laceese to get the ball rolling.

One of the great challenges of the Aboriginal Literacy Project lies in the shipment of the trailers that have been pledged by sponsors like Britco. Getting the trailers shipped, whether by barge or truck, to remote communities in the Interior or on the difficult-to-access British Columbia coast, is going to be an interesting feat of engineering and ingenuity. Construction of foundations, wiring, plumbing, painting and all the other necessities will need to be part of the equation.

However, to date, the first challenge has been met, proving that all the key pieces of the puzzle are in place. Several other Literacy projects are in the planning stages, and soon more portables will be rolling forth on their way to points north. Several Rotary clubs have made partnerships with native communities, several key commercial sponsors like Britco are stepping forth, volunteers in towns and cities have been keen to get involved, and both Point and Blacker have been busy pulling all the pieces together for the next stage.

What’s the possible outcome of installing libraries – and a strong interest in reading, and computer literacy – in aboriginal communities? The initial response from children has been fabulous. The kids are reading everything from Sponge Bob Square Pants to Harry Potter, and they can’t keep their hands off the computers. They are playing video games that are actually learning tools, under the watchful eyes of adult supervisors. In Toosey, the children are also learning their own language, keeping it alive.

The future is so bright, ya gotta wear shades. Creating partnerships between urban centres and remote communities is the real key to the future. Libraries are just the start. Once the outside world learns how it can get involved, prospects open up even further. One logical progression can be the donation of other things besides books. That can range from the donation of skills, training and mentoring to the possibility of investment, business planning and logistical support. Eco-tourism? Aquaculture? Micro-hydro? Resource development? Run of river? Solar power? The ideas list is already growing. The keys lie in the partnerships.

Although the first partnership has not yet been publicized, the word is already getting out. Queries have come in to Rotary Clubs in BC from all over Canada, and there have been emails from Europe as well. Opportunities for involvement are endless, because – as has been observed before – there are tens of thousands of Rotary clubs all over the world. The need among aboriginal communities in Canada is great, and this project doesn’t require taxpayer’s dollars, or expensive bureaucracy, or political involvement, or new legislation. It just requires goodwill, and evidently there’s a lot of that untapped energy around just waiting to be asked.

To get involved in any aspect of this project, head to to the Donate / Contact page of this website.

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