Literacy program a very personal initiative for Ontario Lt.-Gov.

Ontario Lt.-Gov. James K. Bartleman has seized the opportunity to make a difference to the people who will benefit most from his personal experience of life from an aboriginal perspective.
On Monday, Bartleman made a stop on his three-week campaign through Northwestern Ontario at Big Grassy First Nation to officially launch the First Nations Public Library Week—a grassroots program first envisioned in 2000 to encourage the promotion of library resources and literacy through a variety of special programs and activities.
Bartleman was joined by Treaty #3 Grand Chief Leon Jourdain, Big Grassy Chief Glenn Archie, and local MPP Howard Hampton, as well as author Andrea Spalding and illustrator Janet Wilson, who performed a selection from Spalding’s book, “Solomon’s Tree,” which was selected by First Nations Community Read as the most recommended book for aboriginal children.
Spalding, who lives on Pender Island, B.C., said the book was inspired by Tsimpshian master carver Victor Reece, who also was on hand for Monday’s launch.
The Big Grassy library was jammed with children and adults, who came see the fruition of a dream that, for some, goes back 20 years.
For Bartleman, meanwhile, it was a personal mission and a chance to give back something to the community and culture that, as he put it, is so much a part of what he is.
“I’m a member of both worlds,” he explained.
Born in central Ontario to an aboriginal mother and white father, Bartleman grew up near the Mnjikaming First Nation, where his mother was born. But by marrying a white man, his mother—and by extension, her four children—gave up her aboriginal status in the eyes of the law.
In 1985, the law was changed and Bartleman finally was able to explore his culture as a full member.
Even though his parents only had a Grade 4 education, they were determined to do better by their children. Bartleman recalled the trips he made several times a week with his father to the local library and the profound influence that had on the course of his life.
“I think we read every book in that library and that allowed me to gain access to a different world, to have my imagination stimulated and go beyond being a casual labourer like my dad,” he said.
Now Bartleman is determined to see that other aboriginal children—particularly those in the north where there are fewer resources—have the same opportunities he had.
“So, I’ve always encouraged children to read,” he noted. “I want aboriginal youth to stay in school, get an education, and come back to be leaders in their communities.”
Perhaps no one understood the implications of that better than Grand Chief Jourdain.
“We live in two worlds. The world of the pavement and the world of the forest,” he remarked. “You need to know how to walk in the forest before you can walk the pavement.”
The problem was, there were few libraries—and fewer books—in remote areas that, in some cases, are accessible only by air or ice road.
That’s why last month, Bartleman began a province-wide initiative called the Lieutenant Governor’s Campaign for Reading.
Together with the OPP and the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (a largely aboriginal army reserve unit), he has arranged for the collection and delivery of 100,000 books to be distributed to First Nation public libraries throughout the north.
Until Feb. 29, the public is invited to drop off new or gently-used books at any OPP detachment, where they will be sorted and shipped north.
To date, the OPP have flown in nearly 50,000 books, while the Rangers have trekked in 20,000. Another 30,000 are going in over ice roads to such remote places as Fort Albany and Attawapiskat on James Bay.
But on Monday, it was a time for Big Grassy to celebrate and give thanks for the opportunity to fill its library shelves with the tools the band’s children will need to face the challenges of the future.
The books have been carefully screened to make sure they are culturally-appropriate, and will provide children with the tools they will need to survive in both the traditional and modern worlds.
Big Grassy First Nation, located on Highway 621 near Morson, is better off than many other aboriginal communities. It has a thriving commercial fishery and now administers the Assabaska Ojibway Heritage Park, formerly known as Lake of the Woods Provincial Park.
Hampton took the opportunity to remind those on hand that in addition to public generosity, there is a role for the provincial and federal governments to play so aboriginal children can compete in the modern world.
He cited the example of provincial funding formulas for public schools falling short of the needs and expectations of students. Then he dropped the other shoe.
“The day-to-day funding for this and other First Nation schools, which comes from the federal government, is less than the inadequate funding formula now in place,” Hampton charged.
“Since the kids here have to take the same tests and meet the same standards, I think they should have the same funding,” he reasoned.
Hampton then invited the crowd to make that idea an election issue when the prime minister goes to the polls, as he is expected to do sometime this spring.
The celebration concluded with a travelling song performed by the Big Grassy Drummers before people attended a reception, during which Bartleman sold and autographed copies of his autobiography, “Out of Muskoka.”
All proceeds from his book are committed to the Aboriginal Achievement Foundation.
(Fort Frances Times)