The City of Wetaskiwin Library Board is urging the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to create a more streamlined process to allow libraries to access funding for First Nations services.
Late last year the Wetaskiwin Public Library received $25,000. However, the funds dictated by Municipal Affairs are given in whole to the Yellowhead Regional Library and from there Wetaskiwin can apply for a grant for a portion of the funds.
“Yellowhead receives (funds) based on the number of First Nations populations in the city,” said city councillor June Boyda, chair of the City of Wetaskiwin Library Board.
A letter signed by Boyda, in her capacity as chair, addressed to Shaye Anderson, Minister of Municipal Affairs, states, “While the principal and intent of this initiative is incredible, the distribution method is not. We are respectfully requesting that this funding be distributed directly to the individual libraries impacted by the increased service provision.”
The board is also requesting a review of the First Nations populations assigned to each library/library system.
While the city sees library patrons from the four First Nations Bands at Maskwacis — Ermineskin Cree Nation, Louis Bull Cree Nation, Montana First Nation, and Samson Cree Nation — the library is only designated to recognize Ermineskin Cree Nation and a portion of Samson Cree Nation.
“The City of Wetaskiwin sees as much as, or more, traffic from each of the First Nations than southern trading centres such as Ponoka, where the balance of the funding was directed. The tax base from the residents of Wetaskiwin simply cannot absorb the full amount of the difference in the value of library services being provided by the Wetaskiwin Public Library,” states the letter.
With the funds the Wetaskiwin Public Library received it has been able to offer book clubs and early literacy programs on-site at the Nipsis Café and Collective, conduct outreach visits to schools, participate in job fairs to make residents aware of employment related resources, work with the healing lodge Pê Sâkâstêw Centre to encourage literacy development within the incarcerated population, hire an indigenous library services coordinator, and eliminate library membership fees for First Nations members.
“We want to keep things open for everybody so there’s no barriers,” said Boyda.
She added the city and county Wetaskiwin residents already enjoyed free library memberships and, since the decision to eliminate the fees for First Nations members, more than 300 new memberships have come from Maskwacis.