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!
Learn more about their innovation here.
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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