Hay River’s Quinten Ross had an idea of building a free library for people in town, but that idea changed into a club setting.
And he’s looking for more people to get involved.
Ross, who’s the youth representative at the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre, has taken it upon himself to launch the Soaring Eagle Book Club. It’s open to those 16 years of age and over and was started in November 2022.
“In October (2022), I think, is when I started thinking about a project of my own, but I wanted to start a community free library outdoors where people in the community could swap books or take what they needed,” he said.
He said that idea probably wouldn’t have worked out too well, but after reading about funding through Northern Youth Abroad for youth-led community projects in the NWT and Nunavut, he wanted to focus on a book club.
“Since I knew the team there pretty well, I simply reached out and asked if my idea qualified for funding,” he said. “They said ‘yes’ and I signed up for the training week in Ottawa and started brainstorming right away about how I can make this idea a reality.”
Ross received $3,000 to get the club up and running, while the friendship centre donated the space to hold meetings.
The original book club began with two novels by Indigenous authors: From The Ashes by Jesse Thistle, a Metis writer from Ontario who documented his overcoming addiction and childhood trauma to pursue education, and A Mind Spread Out On The Ground by Alicia Elliot, which explores several topics, including reconciliation and depression.
Ross said he wanted to share those books because the themes are similar to what a lot of people are going through in the North.
“We are going through a mental health crisis – there’s drug addiction and alcoholism among the youth community and what seems to be gang violence, plus recent suicide attempts throughout the North,” he said. “I felt the pain and felt I needed to do something, anything that could change at least one person’s life through literature.”
Another reason Ross said he feels the club is important has to do with literacy rates in the town.
“Very few people read in Hay River and this shows through the numbers from my book club,” he said. “Local Aboriginal youth were struggling in school and socially because of systematic racism in schools and their social lives, and poverty also has played a factor. The result has been a confusion in their identity and overall low self-esteem.”
Ross himself didn’t start reading a lot until around 2021, he added.
“I started reading more often around summer 2021 because I needed a hobby and I was also curious of novels by Indigenous leaders,” he said. “I began reading books by Indigenous authors and I’ve learned so much from them.”
Ross’ first attempt at a book club saw 15 people turn out, he said, but most of them weren’t able to commit to a regular meeting, and that number has dropped to about six since December 2022.
The continuation of the club could have as many as 10 members because Ross said that’s how many copies of each book he’s purchased for the upcoming edition.
Those books are No Longer Human by Japanese author Osamu Dazai. It’s described as a novel about a young man who is caught between the break-up of the traditions of an aristocratic Japanese family and western ideas – a pessimistic read, as Ross described it. The other is Leaves of Grass, a book of poetry by Walt Whitman.
The meetings so far have been very interesting, said Ross.
“We have deep conversations about the material and of ourselves,” he said. “Really, we’re healing through literacy by sharing our story on a safe environment because we all trust each other and have capacity to do so by learning to relate to these stories.”
*Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Quinten. Northern News Services apologizes for the error.