B.C. Lt. Gov. Steven Point stood in the middle of a hockey rink on the Tl’esqox First Nation Tuesday and addressed the crowd that had gathered for the formal occasion; he told his audience of adults, youth and children of his struggle with poverty and literacy and implored them to work towards literacy because of its ability to open doors.
Point, Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in B.C., was at the First Nation community to officially open the community’s new library that was borne out of a partnership between his office and the Rotary International Joint Literacy Project to bring literacy resources to remote and isolated communities throughout the province.
The Williams Lake Daybreak Rotary Club partnered with Tl’esqox, the Rotary Club of Langley Central, the Rotary Club of Langley and Langley-based Britco for the project that included the donation of a modular building formerly used during the 2010 Olympic Games, and books and other resources to stock the newly minted Tl’esqox Library.
Point, a former chief and tribal chair of the Sto:lo Nation Government and former provincial court judge, told the crowd that it wasn’t until high school when he read his first book from cover to cover.
The story of a civil rights lawyer who fought for minority rights in the United States later convinced him to return to school. But he struggled lacking basic literacy skills.
“I had to go back to a class every lunch hour at college. A Sesame Street program taught me how to understand English grammar,” he recalled.
Point says he realized the gravity of the situation facing literacy amongst the First Nations population when he attended his first meeting of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
He saw that while many chiefs understood their rights and what they were fighting for they could not comprehend the written word.
That was when I understood we were poor and standing at the margins of a country called Canada,” he said. “I understood if we were going to change that and bring our people out of poverty; if we were going to accomplish what elders wanted in terms of rights, we had to begin to understand the written word. We had to send our young people to school.”
Point said literacy is the key to helping First Nations people understand the world, be empowered and participate fully in it.
“For too long we’ve been standing on the outside looking into government. It’s high time we begin to run for positions and find out what’s going on in the world to bring it home to the people.
“But it begins with literacy and understanding — hanging on to our culture and language but with another tool too: literacy.”
Point thanked the organizations that had collaborated to help to make the library a reality. He told them they’d, “brought us to a different place in history to a new plateau. All I can say is thank you.”
Later, Tl’esqox First Nation education co-ordinator Shirley Johnny-Grambush, said a library in the community’s backyard would mean residents no longer have to travel to Williams Lake to access books. School-aged children in the community had previously used school libraries and families had to travel every few weeks to the Williams Lake library in the community’s van if they wanted access to books.
“This is much easier. It’s closer to home instead of taking an hour in a vehicle so it’s much better and we’ll have more time,” Johnny-Grambush said.
“We want to help promote the habit of reading; there’s a lot of children who really love books.”
Some of the books were chosen by community members and others were donated. Johnny-Grambush says the library will purchase new ones on a regular basis.
Although there’s much work to be done cataloguing the library’s stock, the facility is now open to the community.