Submitted by Steve Harsin, Director, Cook (MN) Public Library . . .
Perhaps the highlight of the 2012 MLA conference was the
third day keynote speaker, Dr. Anton Treuer, a faculty member at Bemidji State University,
Director of the American Indian Resource Center there, and teacher of Ojibwe
Dr. Treuer gave his audience a jolt by beginning his
presentation speaking in Ojibway, and continued to do so long enough that one
could sense discomfort in the room. Finally he stopped, and in English said
“What? You didn’t say when you hired me I had to speak in English.” That made
people chuckle, and he continued from that point in the common language.
He talked about the unfairness of a system where we deal
with native Americans only in a language that is foreign to them, about the
lack of respect that conveys, and what the impact of that is in a culture where
respect is highly valued. He also talked about the political and legal
arrangements of reservations, and how the tribes have the same status as a
foreign nation, but are dependent upon “white man” services (sometimes) for law
enforcement, some social services, libraries, and such. He discussed how
complicated these matters can be, and how we all have a role in working
together to make things happen. And he talked about how too often we offer our services
in a more or less “take it or leave it manner” that doesn’t really answer the
needs of the native American population.
He spoke at length about the little things we do that create
barriers for native people. Mostly those barriers are unconscious acts,
innocently enough, but that have significant consequences. He talked about the
importance in native culture of being made to feel welcome, and how many of our
practices undermine that. Suggestions to improve in this area were simple – buy
more native American materials that are sensitive to native American issues,
include native American newspapers in your collections, put a welcome sign in
your window written in both English and Ojibwe.
The latter has moved to the top of our to-do list in Cook.
We shall soon have a sign in our front window saying Welcome English, Ojibwe,
and Spanish. Because we are located near a two reservations there are a number
of native American users of the library, and perhaps many more who don’t use
the library because we’re not meeting their needs in a way that really serves
them. A number of books from Dr. Treuer’s bibliography are on our wish list,
and the Bois Forte News is now in our newspaper rack. I’ve begun asking the
native Americans who use the library to recommend materials they would like to
see in our collections.
Dr. Treuer provided a very important perspective on serving
a segment of our population that is easily overlooked, often because they don’t
use our services. Hopefully, by following some of his recommendations we can
remedy that.

Dr. Treuer’s handout for his presentation, including
his bibliography (located at the bottom of the document) can be found here: