Inuktitut children’s books destined for the NWT have narrowly avoided potential destruction in Edmonton according to their publisher, which blamed a clerical error.
The book, entitled Kindness Is, was published by the NWT SPCA and Ontario-based Green Bamboo Publishing.
Over the weekend, the shelter and publisher said they received word from the Canada Border Services Agency that 125 copies of the book – 100 in English and 25 in Inuktitut – were being held at Edmonton’s airport.
The books could be destroyed if the organizations did not pay a $5,000 tax duty, the publisher said it was told.
The books were printed in the United States, which meant a duty was payable. It’s not clear how the $5,000 figure was reached. The books themselves were only valued at $400, Green Bamboo’s Jasmine Cabanaw told Cabin Radio.
Cabanaw said charging the duty made no sense and the company was too small to foot the bill.
“A larger business wouldn’t really be impacted by this,” she said, “but for me, as a small business that donates most of my proceeds to charity, it’s a huge deal.”
On Monday, after the threat to the books was publicized online, Cabanaw said she had been contacted by the Canada Border Services Agency and the books were now continuing on their way. She said she had ultimately been asked to pay duty of $25, rather than $5,000.
The Canada Border Services Agency has been approached for comment.
Cabanaw said both she and Dana Martin – vice-president of the Yellowknife-based SPCA – had made dozens of unanswered calls to the agency before the situation was eventually resolved.
News of the books’ potential destruction was especially upsetting, she said, as it came just days after Orange Shirt Day.
“So, you know, the government saying they’re making all this effort in reconciliation – but it’s like, ‘Well, where’s the effort with this?’” she said. “These books are meant for Indigenous children.”
At the SPCA, Martin said the debacle was puzzling as Tłįcho versions of the same book arrived quickly and without difficulty.
Revitalizing Indigenous languages
Originally published in 2017, the shelter designed the Kindness Is books to be a way of teaching kids about the importance of being kind to animals and pets.
In June, the SPCA and Green Bamboo announced the book would be translated into the NWT’s nine Indigenous languages.
As Cabanaw is in Ontario and Martin is in the NWT, Green Bamboo used social media to ask for help in the Edmonton area. As a result, writer and activist Sheldon Elter – who lives nearby – went to the airport on Monday to try to get the books released, but was unsuccessful.
Elter is Métis, Cree, and Iroquois. He said the importance of making Indigenous languages accessible to younger generations cannot be overstated.
“It’s scary to think that this language could die and go away,” Elter said. “Even me, trying to search for someone who speaks Michif, it’s like, ‘Where would I search it out?’
“That’s why I think it’s important for these young kids to receive these books – and to see it written in their own language? There’s nothing more powerful, I think.”
Cabanaw said she is thankful for the support and assistance she received while the books were being held in Edmonton.
“So many people came together to help with this, which is pretty amazing,” she said.
“The book is called Kindness Is, and here we are. All this kindness from strangers.”