A new training program aims to reclaim the Indigenous narrative of Atlantic Canada and empower Indigenous youth in the region to tell their own stories.
Bridge to Publishing grew out of the work of Digitally Lit, a youth engagement strategy that was developed through a partnership in 2019 between five Atlantic publishers – Nimbus Publishing, Bouton d’or Acadie, Goose Lane Editions, Breakwater Books, and Acorn Press. In speaking with youth in the region about what they wanted to see better reflected in local books, youth called for more books representing diversity, and in particular more books centring Indigenous stories and perspectives.
Bridge to Publishing was developed as a response to this feedback. The program is led by a steering committee composed of Indigenous Elders, educators, artists, and storytellers, and is now working with eight partner publishers – Formac Publishing, Breton Books, and Fernwood Publishing have joined the initial five publishers. The program is funded by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ulnooweg Indigenous Communities Foundation.
Killa Atencio, public and youth engagement manager of Bridge to Publishing, says the program builds on the central role of storytelling in Indigenous culture and traditions.
“This program is more than just performative – it’s actually truth and reconciliation in practice,” Atencio says. “We’re training young people to reclaim the narrative, change the system.”
The free training program is open to applications from Indigenous youth who live in Atlantic Canada, and aims to prepare youth to work in the region’s publishing sector. Now in its pilot year, the program will run from January to June, and will open with foundational workshops grounded in Indigenous storytelling principles taught by Elders, Atencio says, with more technical workshops to follow. The subjects of the technical workshops will be determined in part by the interests of the first cohort of youth. All programming will be delivered online. At the end of the program, participants will be invited to apply for paid internships at the program’s partner publishers in the region.
Kassidy Bernard, 26, is looking forward to starting the program in January.
Bernard, who is from We’koqma’q First Nation, studied design and illustration and works in the field. Bernard has been writing for years, and is looking forward to the networking opportunities that the program will offer.
“Finding this program dedicated to someone with my lived experience, I thought: This is perfect. It seems like it makes a lot of those scary barriers seem doable,” Bernard says. “Because it’s dedicated to Indigenous youth, I knew I didn’t have to explain myself or my different perspectives as much in those spaces.”
Applications are still open for Indigenous youth between the ages of 18 and 30 who live in Atlantic Canada and are interested in joining the program’s inaugural year. Atencio says Bridge to Publishing is hoping to have a cohort of between 20 and 30 youth.
Beyond the first year, the goal is to move the program from a pilot to a fully funded program that will “ensure that more Indigenous authors and illustrators and Indigenous-edited books are published each year in this region,” Atencio says.