The Athabasca Tribal Council office in Waterways on Friday, October 9, 2020. Laura Beamish/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network jpg, FM

By Scott McLean, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Published Oct 25, 2021

The Athabasca Tribal Council (ATC) has partnered with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to send a free book to children under five every month.

The program is open to rural and First Nation residents in Anzac, Fort Chipewyan, Fort Fitzgerald, Fort McKay, Janvier and Fort McMurray #468 First Nation. Elena Gould, director of education, language and culture for ATC, said the partnership was formed to improve early literacy within First Nation communities.  

“It’s a major component of success in schools as well as long term quality of life,” said Gould in an interview. “We really felt this partnership would be a good investment for the ATC, because it does put books in the hands of kids from zero to five every single month. You sign up from when they’re born and every month for five years they get a book in the mail.”

The partnership is sponsored by a $10,000 donation from Enbridge and took six months to finalize. Karla Buffalo, CEO for ATC, has used the service with her own children and felt it was an important service for families in rural areas. 

“Sometimes it’s really difficult to access new reading resources,” she said in an interview. “Whether it’s accessibility to the library or if people don’t have the funds to access books. This is providing age-appropriate books that really encourage kids to read and families to spend time together.”

The partnership is also a result of the current challenges rural communities face when it comes to finding books, especially for children. 

A book shelf and indoor playground at the Conklin Multiplex in Conklin, Alta. on Thursday, January 30, 2020. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network jpg, FM

The Wood Buffalo Regional Library (WBRL) runs a lending library program in Anzac, Conklin, Fort Chipewyan and Janvier. The library also delivers books to Anzac, Conklin and Janvier twice a month. They can be picked up at lockers at municipal properties in those communities. Books can also be sent directly to rural residents unable to leave their homes.

“We are in the process of trying to get locations at Fort McMurray #468 First Nation and Fort McKay,” said Sheri Anthony, community services manager for the WBRL. “You can rent out anything in our collection and get it sent to those communities. The library card also gives you access to our online resources.”  

Internet speeds in rural communities is also limited, making it difficult to borrow ebooks from the library or use library apps such as Hoopla. The municipality has partnered with Telus on a $21-million project to bring high speed internet to rural areas. Construction won’t begin until next spring. 

Gould praised the WBRL’s services and programs, but said the direct-to-door service offered by the Dolly Parton Imagination Library can still help promote literacy in rural areas.

“We thought it was a really important time for us to get involved to get this directly into homes because of the lack of in-person services that is taking place within our First Nations and our rural communities,” said Gould. “It’s very important that we have that literacy taking place at that earlier stage, instead of later in a child’s school life.” 

This item is reprinted with permission from Fort McMurray Today. See article HERE.

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