Yellowknife’s public library begins an “Elders-in-residence” program on Friday, inviting residents to come and talk with Elders about any topic they like.
The library will first host William Greenland, of Gwich’in origin, followed by Inuk Elder Annie Mitsima. Library manager John Mutford said the library connected with Elders through the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation.
Mutford has been following Elder-in-residence programs at libraries in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton. Now, Yellowknife’s own version is ready to go. Greenland’s appearance at the library will be from 10am till noon on Friday.
“We do have a lot of people from all cultures, including the various Indigenous cultures across town, that use us quite frequently,” said Mutford.
“We’re also, of course, in the information-sharing field. And while the traditional emphasis has always been on the written word or text, we know that’s not the only way people get information.”
Mutford wants the library to become a welcoming place for all, something he says has not always been true for libraries and their Indigenous patrons.
His vision includes carrying what he terms a “huge” amount of Indigenous resources, as well as programming run by and for Indigenous people. “We want to keep making those connections. This is another one of those that we think helps bridge that,” Mutford said.
A counsellor, singer-songwriter and flute player, Greenland is the first Elder to spend time at the library.
“I don’t like to tell people what to do,” he said of his approach to wellness and guidance. “I usually lead by example of my own experience, my own story, and how I overcame a lot of the struggles in my life to get to where I am.”
Greenland said people should come with an “open heart, open mind.” Mutford’s suggested topics include culture, health and wellness, or history, though he added: “It’s not limited to that if somebody has other questions.”
On October 4, Inuk elder Annie Mitsima will be at the library from 10am to noon. Mutford said the library will grow the program slowly after this.
The Elder-in-residence program is part of a broader effort by the City of Yellowknife to engage in reconciliation on a number of fronts.
A reconciliation action plan is being drafted. City administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellett recently said the municipality’s actions must move beyond the symbolic to build an inclusive, culturally safe city.
Bassi-Kellett made the statement at a city-organized gathering on September 12, where residents shared how they wanted to see reconciliation happen.