Students Donate Indigenous-Authored Books to Little Free Libraries in Hamilton

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In your day-to-day life, perhaps you’ve encountered a Little Free Library: a small, windowed hutch where community members exchange books to enhance access to literature and foster a shared sense of community.

Last spring, in Visiting Professor of Native American Studies Tarisa Little’s Indigenous Education course, these sites were the focus of a “little activism” project, in which students each donated a book by an Indigenous author.

Professor Little’s students engaged in a semester-long research project to inform their selections. They began their studies with introductory lectures on Indigenous ways of knowledge and early colonial schools. Using the Huron-Wendat Nation as a case study, Professor Little shared her expertise on federally mandated residential and day schools in Canada. 

These schools, which were built across North America, were designed to assimilate indigenous children into white culture.

“During my PhD program, I parsed through archives from the Wendat community and was invited to do some research on their behalf,” says Little, who earned her degree at the University of Saskatchewan in 2023. “And today, even after my studies, I am still involved with their research community, helping them gather their history to share.” 

By sharing this connection, Professor Little taught her students about the importance of multicultural inclusion in the classroom.

“No child is too young to understand the basics of what a residential school is,” says education and psychology major Maggie McCarthy ’27. For her book, McCarthy chose When We Were Alone by David Robertson — an illustrated story of resistance that introduces children to the history of residential schools in Canada.

“I’m passionate about teaching reading,” says McCarthy, “And I feel equipped to bring these stories into my future classroom in an informed, sensitive way.”

Ben Graham ’25 chose The Tale of Two Teams, a creation legend belonging to the Oneida Indian Nation. After originally reading the story in Professor Meg Gardner’s Ecojustice and Education course, Graham revisited it for the LFL project.

“The story evokes the themes of equality and a mutually beneficial relationship between humans and nature,” says Graham, who is an active member of Colgate’s Outdoor Education Program. “It teaches important lessons about inclusion and not judging books by their covers.”

These efforts to improve access to Indigenous literature represent what Professor Little calls “little activisms” — small acts with significant impact. Her students learned about the importance of multicultural inclusion in the classroom and encountered an important truth.

“Talking with Indigenous people in the contemporary classroom ensures that they are heard and seen for who they are: current members of society,” says Little.