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'I think he would be really thrilled': Book drive seeks work by Indigenous authors for Manitoba prisons


A new book drive is looking to bring more work by Indigenous authors into Manitoba prisons.

The Manitoba Library Association's Prison Libraries Committee is asking for donations to the "Joe Big George Collection" of books by Indigenous authors, and about Indigenous culture to be distributed to prisons across the province.

The association is seeking to address what it says is an enormous lack of Indigenous resources in Manitoba prisons.

The book drive is in honour of Joe Big George, who worked as an elder in federal and provincial correction centres for 16 years before he passed away this past April.            

Big George's partner Joanna White said he was passionate about ensuring that Indigenous inmates had the resources to allow them to learn about their identity.

White said Big George served prison time in the United States when he was younger, a period he was able to get through with the help of reading.

"He was a voracious reader when he was serving time," said White. "The books really created a respected space for him to start thinking about leading a different type of life."

Big George passed away in April 2023 from a rare form of leukemia. White said that before he died, Big George was in the process of curating a selection of books by Indigenous authors at the Milner Ridge Correctional Centre.

"We were both really shocked to learn that Indigenous inmates didn’t really have access to books by Indigenous authors," said White. "There are lots of books that do come in through the book drives that the Manitoba Library Association holds, but it really is a general selection of books and not as many focused on Indigenous history, especially from Indigenous perspectives."

Indigenous people are significantly over-represented in Canadian prisons. A Statistics Canada report said there are 10 times more Indigenous people behind bars than any other group. 

Book donations for the drive are being accepted at three locations. Any literature written by an Indigenous author can be dropped off at the St. James-Assiniboia or Millennium Library locations, or at the Elizabeth Fry Society of Manitoba at 544 Selkirk Avenue.

White hopes the book drive will become an annual event.

"This is something we believe Joe would absolutely support, and I think he would be really thrilled that we were doing something like this," she said.

- With files from CTV's Kimberley Rio Wertman Top Stories

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