A vending machine may seem like an unexpected item in undoing centuries of colonialism, but it’s not just any old vending machine. It still spits out treats – just not the treats you’re used to.
The vending machine’s Indigenous books are “culturally relevant” to children, said Sheree Plain, coordinator of the Akwe:Go program at the N’Amerind Friendship Center in London, Ont.
Plain works with Aboriginal children ages 7-12. It helps them keep their cultural traditions alive while living in the city and away from their community.
The books are free. For a few brass tokens, which the Friendship Center distributes, young people can open a personal window into their own culture — a window unfettered by non-Indigenous voices — something Plain said she never grew up .
8 years old inspired by distributed books
“When you don’t have that as a kid, you almost feel like you don’t belong,” she said. “It makes us see. It makes our kids see. I think I’m going to cry thinking about it.”
It is an emotional moment for adults and children 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 skipped because I haven’t used a vending machine in a while.”
You can imagine many things. You can create your own books. You can have dreams.– Kaida-Lynn Aquash, 8 years old
In time, she will become more familiar with the machine, the thud of the books as they are distributed, and the stories they tell – her stories.
“You can imagine a lot of things. You can create 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 the chips in the 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 stands out – what we’re saying is ‘literacy is going to be the same’. They’re going to watch them 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 will help connect children to their own culture in a way their parents never had, and that by inserting tokens into the machine they will understand a symbolic gesture of invest in their own culture to acquire knowledge.
“Once you see yourself, you can also believe it. That’s when we say, ‘Yes, you have a strong connection to learning and achieving.'”
“Once we’ve helped them learn to read, we’ve put them on the path to a better future.”