Edmonton library names first elder in residence

In an effort to further reconciliation with First Nations people, Edmonton Public Libraries has appointed its first elder in residence.

Wilson Bearhead, from the Paul First Nation, will serve as an Indigenous leader in library branch locations across the city.

Bearhead will help patrons reconnect with Indigenous culture through public education programs, spiritual ceremonies and one-on-one meetings.

"I'm open to everybody," Bearhead said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"I will work with them, provide them the space that they need, smudging will be part of it, but also talking and helping out the best way I can … everybody needs somebody to talk to."

'Create that trust'

A respected elder and educator, Bearhead was once grand chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations and the Alberta regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations.

The program is a first for the library. Part of a one-year pilot project that concludes in Feb. 2018, the appointment is designed to continue the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"It has taken us a long time to develop and build relationships with indigenous communities and we have heard that having an elder in place helps create that trust," said Linda Garvin, executive director of customer experience at Edmonton Public Libraries.

"We want people to feel welcome in the library, to use the library and see themselves in the library, so by having an elder, we will be creating a space that is safe, but also help people on their own reconciliation journeys."

'It's been wonderful'

Bearhead will be available at the Edmonton Public Library twice a week, one day at the Abbottsfield branch at 3410 118th Ave., and the other at the Stanley A. Milner Library's temporary location  in Enterprise Square at 10212 Jasper Ave.

Though he has already been working in the role for more than two months, Bearhead will be officially welcomed to the position in a public ceremony 10 a.m. Friday at the Enterprise Square library branch.

Bearhead said he's proud to take on the new role, and hopes his presence will help others find healing.

"It means a lot because you provide an experience to a different community," he said. "I get a chance to meet different groups of people and get to spend time with them and talk about some of things they have on their mind.

"It's been a very experimental journey so far … it's been wonderful."