Kainai Nation

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Size of Kainai Nation reserve, a.k.a. Blood Indian Reserve No. 148: 1,414 km²
Band Population (2015): 12,800
Rivers bordering the reserve: Oldman; St. Mary; Belly
Number of items borrowed from Kainai Public Library: 2013: 600; 2014: 2,300
Number of items available on Chinook Arch regional system: 900,000 in 33 libraries
Month a state of emergency was declared by band council due to fentanyl overdoses: Mar 2015
Month Red Crow Community College was destroyed by arson: Aug 2015 (est. $10-million damage)
Public donations to fix the reserve college, as of Jun 27, 2016: $6,700
Band Chief: Charles Weasel Head
Provincial riding: Cardston-Taber-Warner
MLA: Grant Hunter (WR, 2015-)

The first and only public library on a reserve in Alberta opened on February 23, 2013, in the town of Stand Off—the administrative centre for the Kainai First Nation on the Blood Reserve southwest of Lethbridge. The Kainai Public Library—part of the Chinook Arch Regional Library System in southern Alberta—was first housed in a small school classroom before moving in 2014 to a new, more spacious location in the Kainai Multi-Purpose Centre, which also includes a gym, weight room and running track. “This was my dream to have a library,” says Linda Weasel Head, public library manager and a former teacher and principal in the community. “I get all emotional when I think about it.”

Previous attempts to get a library on reserve “kept coming against the wall of federal and provincial jurisdictions,” says Weasel Head. “They couldn’t cross that border, for whatever reason.” The library finally happened, she says, when the public library board—answerable to the Alberta Ministry of Municipal Affairs—changed the regulations so that they could work with any school board. “Well, my goodness, the Kainai Board of Education is ‘any school board,’ ” says Weasel Head. “That was our way in.” The first step was to get a band council resolution, which allowed on-reserve library proponents to work with Chinook Arch, particularly then-CEO Maggie MacDonald. “The library people have been really good to us,” says Weasel Head. “It’s such a difference to when you go in a store, say, and people are looking at you like ‘What are you trying to steal?’—that happens—but this was like ‘We’re here to help’. It was awesome.”

There’s a strong correlation between literacy levels and poverty, she says: “When a library is in a community, literacy levels rise.” Still, funding is a challenge. In 2016 a newly elected band council stopped funding the library, which is paid for—for now—by Kainai Board of Education. “If there’s a donor out there that wants to help,” says Weasel Head, “we need stable funding.”

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