A vending machine might seem like an unexpected item to undo centuries of colonialism, but this isn't any old vending machine. It still spits out goodies — but not the goodies you're used to.
The Indigenous books from the vending machine are "culturally relevant" for children, said Sheree Plain, the Akwe:Go program co-ordinator at the N'Amerind Friendship Centre in London, Ont.
Plain works with Indigenous children between ages seven and 12. She helps them keep their cultural traditions alive while living in the city and away from their community.
The books are free. For a couple of brass tokens, which the friendship centre gives out, the youngsters can unlock a personal window into their own culture — one unfettered by non-Indigenous voices — something Plain said she never had growing up.
8-year-old inspired by dispensed books
"When you don't have that as a child, you almost feel like you don't belong," she said. "It makes us seen. It makes our kids seen. I think I'm going to cry thinking about it."
It's an emotional moment for the grownups and kids alike.
Eight-year-old Kaida Lynn Aquash was the machine's first customer, and from the moment she deposited her "bookworm" tokens, she felt a jolt of anticipation.
"I jumped because I haven't used a vending machine in a while."
You can imagine lots of things. You can make your own books. You can have dreams. - Kaida-Lynn Aquash, 8
With time, she'll become better acquainted with the machine, the thump of the books as they're dispensed and the stories they tell — her stories.
"You can imagine lots of things. You can make your own books. You can have dreams," the youngster said.
"I can learn our language from these books and I feel like it inspires me, and I love it."
Putting tokens in machine a symbolic gesture
It's music to the ears of Brian Warren, the founder and director of Start2Finish, a charity that helps foster the well-being of children through fitness and education.
"Kids love tokens and getting things," he said. "Something popping out — what we're saying is, 'Literacy is going to be the same thing.' They're going to look and read them in culturally relevant terms.
"Colonialism is someone else telling the story, but what they're going to see is someone who is First Nation telling the story."
Warren said he hopes the vending machine helps connect the kids with their own culture in ways their parents never had, and that by inserting tokens into the machine, they understand a symbolic gesture of investing in their own culture to gain knowledge.
"Once you see yourself, you can believe it too. This is where we say, 'Yes, you have a strong connection to learning and achievement.'
"Once we help them learn to read, we have started them on the path to a brighter future."