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Back 2 School: Checking in with VSB’s Indigenous Education Department

Patricia Massy of Massy Books

Preparing more than 100 schools for back to school was no small feat for VSB’s Indigenous Education department this year. According to Chas Desjarlais, director of instruction for Indigenous education, starting in September, all elementary and secondary schools in the District will receive a selection of Indigenous-authored books. The books were curated with help from staff of two local Indigenous-owned bookstores, Massy Books and Iron Dog Books

The master list of titles was curated by Indigenous Education staff and the Learning and Assessment Team. “It excites me to know that Indigenous learners, non-Indigenous learners and educators across the District will have access to such diverse Indigenous books that will not only honour Indigenous voices but truth of their collective lived experiences and histories,” says Desjarlais. 

“Three of our staff worked on this over a period of three months,” says Patricia Massy, owner of Massy Books. In collaboration with Iron Dog Books, Massy and her team sorted through the titles to see what was still in print, made recommendations and further sorted the books by supplier. “Many hours of spreadsheet analysis and emailing distributors was required to ensure they had enough stock to fill such a large order!” 

Approximately 300 titles comprising a total of 16,385 books were purchased for schools. Several of these titles are very meaningful to Massy. “April Raintree was one of the first stories I read as a young girl, where I saw parts of my own story written on the page,” says Massy. She also recommends anything by Richard Wagamese. “I always tell customers at our shop that reading Wagamese is like going to ceremony – it's poetic medicine that will leave you feeling connected and changed for the better.” 

For Massy, bookselling started as a hobby, but has turned out to be a fulling career. She started selling books online to make extra money while attending university, then moved to selling at flea markets. This was followed by a brief eight-month pop-up shop on Main. “When I was at a crossroads within my profession in 2014, I decided to go into bookselling. After opening my shop, it was discovered there were multiple booksellers going back several generations through my father's side. In some way, I feel I was meant to do what I'm doing,” she says.

Starting in September, all students in British Columbia must successfully complete at least four credits in Indigenous-focused coursework to graduate. This new requirement supports educators to lead students on a path towards truth and reconciliation. These books that now occupy space on shelves across the District will further serve as tools to help students to develop a deeper understanding of Indigenous perspectives, histories and cultures. “I was surrounded by Indigenous brilliance when helping to organize the delivery—some of the book authors are my friends. It made be both proud and emotional at times when putting the books into the boxes,” says Desjarlais.  

For Massy, the sharing of stories is universal, beautiful and cultivates acceptance for diverse cultures and voices. “I hope in reading these books, students experience the wisdom and beauty of Indigenous culture, our history and contemporary life, and they are moved in ways that connect them to their humanity,” she says. 

The first day of school this year is September 5, 2023. Indigenous programs and services are available throughout the school year to students for who self-identify as having Indigenous ancestry. The Indigenous Education team provides academic, cultural, social and emotional support alongside hosting District and school-wide cultural projects, resources, leadership opportunities, and celebrations.

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