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“Proud of the work you do”: A conversation with Tanya Talaga

This column features the voices and experiences of OLA members working in northern Ontario, i.e.,  the region that lies north of Lake Huron (including Georgian Bay), the French River, Lake Nipissing, and the Mattawa River (or above at a latitude of 50°). This month, our story comes from Samantha Martin-Bird and Robyn Medicine, who work in Thunder Bay.

An evening view of Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Thunder Bay, Ontario sits on the north-west shore of Lake Superior and is home to a growing number of Indigenous people.

“Thirteenth year and still growing.” That’s how Stephen Hurrell, Director of Systems at the Thunder Bay Public Library (TBPL), describes the Diversity Breakfast that is held each year in Thunder Bay. “We are a member of this event and I feel it is popular and positive.”

Diversity Thunder Bay, in partnership with the City of Thunder Bay Anti-Racism & Respect Committee, hosts the meal to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and to fulfill a very specific mission: To work towards an inclusive, equitable community free of racism and discrimination of any kind.

According to Tina Tucker (Director of Communities, TBPL), “This breakfast is an ongoing effort to celebrate diversity, share education, and to bring in guest speakers that will challenge people to think about the issues of racism and discrimination and commit to taking action.”

People come from across North Western Ontario to attend and Hurrell estimates that more than 500 were on hand this year to hear keynote speaker Tanya Talaga. Talaga is the author of Seven fallen feathers: Racism, death, and hard truths in a northern city and the northern city is, of course, Thunder Bay. So the meal (and the mission) are not just positive but necessary to bring people together and make the community safer for all.

A collage of four photographs featuring participants at the Diversity Breakfast in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
More than 500 people attend the annual Diversity Breakfast in Thunder Bay on Thursday, March 21, 2019. Author Tanya Talaga (top, middle) gave the keynote address. Thunder Bay Public Library staff on hand were (top left, from left to right), Tiffany Strickland, Tina Tucker, Samantha Martin-Bird, Tanya Talaga and Robyn Medicine.

Many staff from the TBPL were on hand, including Tucker, who is a member of the organizing committee. In addition, Robyn Medicine (Indigenous Liaison) and Samantha Martin-Bird (Community Hub Librarian) were on hand and had the opportunity to sit down with Talaga and ask her for her thoughts on libraries and reconciliation as well as what books and films she would recommend for “any library collection in Ontario.” 

Samantha Martin-Bird (left), Tanaya Talaga (centre) and Robyn Medicine (right).

Talaga was happy to do so and is “proud of the work” that library staff such as Martin-Bird and Medicine are doing to ensure that the library is a welcoming and safe space for all. Here is their conversation.

Tanya Talaga transcript

Photo credit: City of Thunder Bay


Samantha Martin-Bird is the Community Hub Librarian, Indigenous Relationships for the Thunder Bay Public Library.  

Robyn Medicine is the Community Hub Technician, Indigenous Liaison for the Thunder Bay Public Library.

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