A woman living in Nunavut has raised enough funds from Londoners to purchase over 200 and counting new Inuit/First Nations-focused books for kids in Baffin Island.
Gayle Harrison is a licensed optician who has worked across the world. In April, she moved to Baffin Island from the southwestern Ontario city to help open and train local hires for Inuulisautinut Niuvirvik, the area’s first optical and optometry practice.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has created setbacks, Harrison managed to procure a donation of 200 parachute backpacks from one of her suppliers. She decided to brainstorm ideas for items to place inside the bags before giving them away.
“TV, internet, all the screen stuff that you would normally do in the south, it’s not as reliable up here,” said Harrison. “Puzzles, games, and books are all good things.”
Part of the whole truth and reconciliation is to have a better understanding. I think the more everyone understands different cultures, that’s going to help in the whole process.– Lori Jacobson, Strong Nations book and gift store
Harrison researched and found Strong Nations Gifts & Books, an Indigenous-owned book and gift store, online retailer and publishing house based in Nanaimo B.C.
Strong Nations offers a selection of authenticated Indigenous, native American, Aboriginal, First Nations, Inuit and Métis books for all ages.
She then reached out to her network in London for help in purchasing books from Strong Nations.
“I’m very lucky,” she said. “I am surrounded by a community of people, friends and family who are kind and generous. For years I asked them for money for glasses when I go overseas. And I just thought, you know what? I’m going to ask them for books and maybe, you know, in a couple of weeks we can have 200 books to put into these backpacks.”
Harrison first put out the call to her London friends on May 25, asking them to buy a book from Strong Nations to send to Baffin Island. Within 48 hours, 132 books were purchased. The post gained traction and was shared to Old East Village and Picadilly neighbourhood groups over the following days.
As of the writing of this article, Strong Nations is still counting the final number of books ordered. The company confirmed it’s now over 200, and the orders are coming from Ontario.
Strong Nations is working to organize group shipments and will also donate 60 books to the cause.
“I noticed a lot of the books that they are ordering have a northern theme to them, so that’s awesome,” said Lori Jacobson, customer service representative at Strong Nations.
Books help raise awareness
Some titles going to Baffin Island include An Inuksuk Means Welcome by Mary Wallace, and A Walk on the Tundra by Rebecca Hainnu and Anna Ziegler. There have also been orders for books by Inuit author Michael Kusugak, one of the authors published by Strong Nations.
“Part of the whole truth and reconciliation is to have a better understanding. I think the more everyone understands different cultures, that’s going to help in the whole process,” said Jacobson. “These are geared toward children, all of these books, but I think people having to go to the website and look at the books is making them aware.”
Both Harrison and Jacobson said the positive response has prompted Strong Nations and Inuulisautinut Niuvirvik to consider co-ordinating an annual initiative.
The books will be distributed to children who have scheduled eye exams, as well as community celebrations and outreach events when permitted by COVID-19 community safety standards.