Northern Sask. youth to receive Indigenous books as part of long-time holiday program

The books distributed in 2022 as part of Santa in the North, which delivers gifts to kids in the Athabasca communities. – Kristy Jackson/Submitted

This holiday season, northern Saskatchewan children will be getting a special surprise from Santa.

Athabasca Basin Development is preparing for this year’s Santa in the North. While the initiative has been taking place for decades, spearheaded by Rise Air, this is the fifth year youth will receive a book from an Indigenous author.

“It was much harder to find these books five years ago, and this year, we’ve been able to find over 250 titles,” said Kristy Jackson, director of marketing and communications for Athabasca Basin Development.

“It’s a trend we’re happy to see.”

All children in the Athabasca communities from daycare to Grade 12 will receive a book. This includes about 1,400 kids in Fond du Lac, Hatchet Lake, Black Lake, Stony Rapids, Wollaston Lake, Camsell Portage and Uranium City.

Athabasca Basin Developement gets the books from Turning the Tide in Saskatoon. Rise Air donates the freight to transport them by plane.

“The Athabasca communities are primarily isolated communities, so it’s not as easy to get ahold of physical books there as it would be in a city,” said Jackson, although some communities have resources such as school libraries.

Jackson said the hope is not only to foster a love for reading and writing, but for kids to connect with their Indigenous culture.

The long list of titles includes Canadian bestsellers, like The Marrow Thieves and its sequel by Cherie Dimaline. Dimaline is from a Metis community in Ontario.

Other popular titles are Robert Munsch stories, co-authored or illustrated by Indigenous people.

Athabasca Basin Development has also sourced books from Saskatchewan authors, including Prince Albert’s Leah Dorion, Ile-a-la-Crosse’s Bernice Johnson-Laxdal, and Big River First Nation’s Randy Morin.

“I see reading as being a lot like exercise for your brain. There are so many benefits,” emphasized Jackson.

“It improves your focus, communications skills, develops your imagination, can help reduce stress, and is just plain fun. It’s not very expensive and can be done anywhere. It helps you experience life through another person’s point of view.”

At first, Athabasca Basin Development provided books for children up to Grade 5. With more demand and sponsors, it was able to expand the project to include youth all the way up to Grade 12.

Jackson said teachers assist in deciding which books would be best for their students.

Santa in the North also distributes toys and treats. This will be its 23rd year.