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#OnTheRoadULC: Featuring Edmonton Public Library // Two Librarians & A Microphone Podcast

We sit down with the CEO of Edmonton Public Library, Pilar Martinez, to chat about their Voices of Amiskwaciy program. This unique space celebrates indigenous communities and has been recognized by the ULC as a 2018 Top Innovator. 

The Voices of Amiskwaciy is a digital, public space that shares and preserves the power of indigenous stories. It encourages community members to discover and create this type of digital storytelling online and further the reach and spirit of reconciliation. Fun Fact: Amiskwaciy is a shortened version of amiskwaciy-wâskahikan, which translates to "Beaver Hills" in Cree, referring to the Edmonton region!


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Learn more about their innovation here

Voices of Amiskwaciy by Edmonton Public Library. Source


Jim Heuer [00:00:00] Hey everybody, this is Jim Heuer, host of the podcast Two Librarians and A Microphone. The next episode you're going to hear was recorded over conference call technology, so sit back and listen. We hope you enjoy, thanks. Hi everybody, this is Jim Heuer, host of the Ingram Library Services podcast, Two Librarians and A Microphone. Ingram Library Services is a proud sponsor of the Innovation Awards that the ULC bestows upon its members. All righty, so we are here with the director of the Edmonton Public Library, Pilar Martinez. Hi, Pilar, thank you for joining us.

Pilar Martinez [00:00:53] Good afternoon.

Jim Heuer [00:00:54] This is a little bit different. We spoke to a lot of folks in Baltimore, and your schedule did not permit you to join us in Baltimore, but we are really glad that we could find some time to speak to you now and catch up with you and talk to you about your innovation. Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule and telling our audience about the award that you all received.

Pilar Martinez [00:01:19] Thank you for having me.

Jim Heuer [00:01:20] Our pleasure. What is that award, the people out in the radio land are saying? The Edmonton Public Library was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Race and Social Equity category. The project that the folks in Edmonton undertook was with one of the tribes, and I'm going to do my best to pronounce this tribe correctly. This program was called the Voices of Amiskwaciy, and from now on, I'm only going to refer to that program as VOA, because that seems like it's a lot easier for me to pronounce. But, Pilar, could you tell us what this program was, how it came to be, and what kind of the goal at the Edmonton Public Library did you have behind this program?

Pilar Martinez [00:02:08] Sure, I'd be happy to. The idea came to be really a response from the Edmonton Public Library to the Truce and Reconciliation Commission call-to-action, and that was the commission that was initiated by the government of Canada to honor the indigenous and First Nations people of Canada, and there were calls-to-action that resulted from that process. We as a staff management group, read these calls-to-action and came up with ideas that we could do to implement here at the library to engage in the process of reconciliation. We had support from a government grant to create a digital, public space to really celebrate the indigenous peoples through sharing its stories, and indigenous community members contributed and really guided the whole project. Our goal really was to enhance our collections around indigenous content to create sort of a repository of indigenous knowledge. And it was really important for that community to maintain, control and autonomy around what they saw as priorities in content, and it was a great opportunity for us to build relationships and engage, and what we learned about this, through this process, was that it really was about the process as much as it was about the product. It was really important for us to first understand indigenous communities' perspectives and their concerns, and so we did a lot of engagement, and the project, like I mentioned, was really driven by the community.

Jim Heuer [00:03:47] You're saving this repository for the indigenous people and their culture, but I would imagine that the non-indigenous people of Edmonton also would benefit from this by the knowledge, the education?

Pilar Martinez [00:04:02] Part of reconciliation is to gain a better awareness of experiences that have been faced by indigenous peoples throughout their history, as well as a better understanding of their culture and traditions. This is a way to, obviously, enable that process, but absolutely it benefits people from the diversity of backgrounds who live in our city and beyond for sure.

Jim Heuer [00:04:26] You really can satisfy two really distinct, different communities. In terms of when you dealt with the indigenous people in this project, the VOA project, anything stand out as, like, the show piece or a showcase or anything that you were like, "Wow, that's really interesting!" Or if there was a visitor to the Edmonton Public Library, what would you show them of that?

Pilar Martinez [00:04:50] Oh, there's such a variety. We have examples that really cross the range of different experiences, so Harold Cook is a Dene man who lives in Edmonton, and he's a survivor of a residential school, which was located in the Northwest Territories, and he really is an advocate for victims. So, it's a very moving and impactful sort of testimony about his experience as a residential school survivor, and the impact of residential schools on indigenous peoples, so we have that as one example, and then we have other examples where people share not only their personal stories, but just ways of living and teaching about culture, so things like dance, or ceremony, you know, things that really give us the deeper perspective in terms of indigenous culture, so there's quite the gamut of content.

Jim Heuer [00:05:43] Well, and I'm just reading through some of the things that went along with the program, a lot of storytelling you're kind of capturing digitally, but also it looks like you had some workshops with different participants there, and I would imagine that was probably a pretty powerful event.

Pilar Martinez [00:05:57] Because it's such a community-driven project, building capacity for folks to tell their own story, to use technology to be able to tell their stories was a key component of the project.

Jim Heuer [00:06:08] You said that the funding came about via some grants.

Pilar Martinez [00:06:12] To celebrate Canada's 150th birthday, there was some grant funding, and because the Truce and Reconciliation Commission activities were so prominently viewed within our country and within the federal government, there was funding made available for projects like ours.

Jim Heuer [00:06:28] Is this kind of ongoing?

Pilar Martinez [00:06:30] It's still an on-going project. The funding really helped us get set up and have the initial uptake, but it's continuing. We were able to work with the provincial government. There's interest in expanding this beyond Edmonton into the entire province of Alberta through various libraries and the indigenous communities that are served by those libraries, so we do have a small branch available to kickstart that project. Edmonton Public Library, though, has made assurances that this will continue, the process will continue, so that we continue to collect the stories and help provide opportunities for indigenous people to tell their stories, to enlighten the community about their culture.

Jim Heuer [00:07:13] Wow, that's interesting stuff. You said that this might spread to other provinces in Canada, there might be some--

Pilar Martinez [00:07:20] First to Alberta…for sure Alberta.

Jim Heuer [00:07:23] Okay, in Alberta, right. But I'm thinking that there might be somebody listening who this either resonates with them based on where their library is and maybe some of the indigenous people that are there. If someone said, "Hey, I don't have the grant funds to do this, but this sounds like something I want to try." What were some of the lessons that you all learned, or what advice would you have for somebody who wanted to reach out to some of their patrons who might have that same type of lineage?

Pilar Martinez [00:07:52] Really good question, and people can definitely call us, we'd be happy to have conversations. Some things that we would suggest would be to really ensure that there's collaboration and engagement with the local community which you're hoping to support through digital storytelling projects. We worked with elders in the community, indigenous elders, to determine what values they wanted to commit to, and that it really reflected their values and what they wanted to see. You know, be open to that feedback. That engagement and that collaboration is an ongoing thing. Needs and perspectives change and they're dynamic, so that inclusiveness and responsiveness is a real big factor in ensuring it's successful. The stories that we have in the collection really support that. Like I've mentioned, I think, that learning about culture, which really supports and helps future generations, that bridge between the elderly and the younger generations, as well as, as you mentioned, non-indigenous people. I think that's really ensuring that you have patience. Sometimes these conversations can take time, and though the outcome is less important than making sure that the communities are heard, and respected, and there's a real good understanding of their needs and desires.

Jim Heuer [00:09:15] The thing with moving forward, right, this is really kind of thinking of librarianship in a different way, in some part, I guess, but in some ways not. Were there things that your staff or you personally found more rewarding in working with this? Or, like I said, this is a bit different than kind of like the every day to day in a library, so hopefully there was some stuff that you guys could take away from it, from working with the community?

Pilar Martinez [00:09:40] I think there are many things the staff found rewarding. The launch event that we held last year, actually, it was a year ago, and there were about 150 people in attendance…and it was just, there were some people who actually performed or told their stories on stage live, in terms of what they had contributed to the Voices of Amiskwaciy. And that was incredibly moving to hear the stories about residential school survivors, but also really inspiring to see youth incorporating culture into their daily lives, and seeing how it has helped them overcome addictions, or other sort of barriers and hurdles that we face in our lives that just by going back to their roots and the traditions of their culture, so that was very moving. The staff would talk about having that personal relationship with somebody who's telling such a very intimate story of hurt and pain, I think that that was a very moving experience. The response from the community has been very positive, so I think we have a good reputation, I think, as a very credible organization that does its best. Obviously, mistakes are made, we don't know the culture, necessarily, or traditions and protocols, but there's a sense that we are doing our best, so I think there is a lot of goodwill. It's been incredible.

Jim Heuer [00:11:11] Yeah, that's great. Okay, so what's next? What big thing are you going to do next that the provincial government's going to have you do for all the libraries in the province?

Pilar Martinez [00:11:20] We've got our senior indigenous relations advisor is working with a staff person to start working with communities and library staff to help them help community members tell stories, do some trainings in terms of using the video equipment, and so on. We hope to have something, by June, so it's sort of a first step at this. It's going to take, obviously, a lot longer than this next six months, but it's a good first start to expand it.

Jim Heuer [00:11:54] When you guys are all done, let us know so we can work with your foundation and you guys can publish these stories as a book.

Pilar Martinez [00:12:00] Yes, exactly, that would be great!

Jim Heuer [00:12:04] No, that's something that sounds like, "We'd love to work with you on something like that." These are the things that are fun, right? Let's get that content for others to enjoy too.

Pilar Martinez [00:12:14] Yeah, for sure. Well, our mission is we share, so if anybody has any questions, they can look on our website and contact us, and we'd be happy to share more in-depth specific information.

Jim Heuer [00:12:26] Yeah, we'll do our best to drive some folks your way, because this sounds like really good stuff. We'll join the ULC in congratulating you for your award.

Pilar Martinez [00:12:36] Oh, thank you, Jim.

Jim Heuer [00:12:37] Maybe at the next ULC event, we'll be able to sit down, and you can tell us about the next innovation that you guys have all done.

Pilar Martinez [00:12:44] That sounds excellent, I look forward to that.

Jim Heuer [00:12:46] All righty, thank you, bye-bye. Two Librarians and A Microphone is brought to you by Ingram Library Services, it is a division of Ingram Content Group. Our producer/director is Rachel Cope, sound engineering by Craig Simpson, special assistance by Essence Brisco, and Elizabeth Wilcox. The research done by our librarians, Trisha Bengel and Donna George. I'm Jim Heuer, thanks most of all to you for listening. Please follow us on Instagram at @thelibrarylife, tag us in your #thelibrarylife moments, because we've got some cool stuff going on, on that social media platform. We're going to be giving away some exclusive books, ARCs, perhaps a signed copy. In order to make sure you're staying tuned to this podcast, we'd love for you to go to our landing page, but most importantly, the best way you can show your support for us, is we'd love some reviews on Apple iTunes. If you can go on there and leave us a positive review, that would really help. We'll see you in your libraries. Thanks everybody.

Learn more about the Voices of Amiskwaciy
Chat with Pilar about how your library can implement something similar: or 780-496-7000