Ahhhh… just spoke at my second academic conference in as many weeks. This time I flew up to Thunder Bay to speak at the Reading in First Nations conference. I might add that it’s been some time since I’ve flown. For some unfathomable reason I decided it would be a good idea to pack at least two of everything airlines don’t want you to carry onboard. Sort of a Noah’s Ark of prohibited items.
Conference topics included improving literacy in the communities of Ontario’s Far North and a keynote address by Ojibwa author Drew Hayden Taylor. In spite of suffering through a pretty bad cold, Taylor proved a compelling speaker. He showed a very different side of Native life than the one we often see portrayed in the media. His lightheartedness and an easygoing humour set the perfect tone for what was essentially a relationship building exercise between urban library professionals and our First Nations partners.
As opposed to most other conferences, few of the participants shared the same geographic space. The isolated nature of Far North communities makes it extremely difficult for First Nations groups to meet in person. About ten years ago, the Keewaytinook Okimakanak (KO) bands pioneered the use of tele-conferencing technology to build bridges between their remote communities. The conference involved approximately sixty people and was spread over a half a dozen sites across Ontario.
One of the primary reasons for the conference was the unveiling of the On-Demand Book Service (ODBS). The project is the brainchild of Prof. Nadia Caidi and several members of the KO community, including Brian Walmark and Brian Beaton. Essentially, the ODBS is an e-book web portal/printing/bookbinding system. Given the difficulties of transporting physical books to Far North communities, it’s our hope that this system will allow them to print and bind their own books without having to rely on the whims of book vendors.
I was dropped off in Thunder Bay to visit the KO Research Institute, while fellow University of Toronto students Margaret Lam and Mighty Marta Chudolinska carried on to Sioux Lookout and Keewaywin, respectively. We were accompanied by Daniel Reetz from the University of North Dakota. Between us, we demonstrated Marta’s do-it-yourself book binding press, Daniel’s homemade book scanner and the ODBS equipment itself. The day was capped off by an open forum chat between Prof. Caidi’s colleagues at U of T and members of the Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout and Keewaywin communities.
For a full run down of the ODBS project check out our website (kindly hosted by the KNET people):
Drew Hayden Taylor is a remarkably prolific author. While he’s primarily known as a playwright and humourist, he’s also writen novels, short stories and scripts for milestone Canadian television shows such as The Beachcombers and North of 60. Check out his personal website here:
Margaret, Marta and Daniels’ personal websites & blogs:
*Poster design by Graham Huber