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NDN Girls Book Club to embark on Yiłta! book drop tour in April

Founder Kinsale Drake launched the NDN Girls Book Club in 2023 to provide accessible and quality Native literature to youths on reservations. (Courtesy NDN Girls Book Club)
10,000 books highlighting Indigenous stories and authors will be donated to Navajo Nation youths

A nonprofit organization dedicated to providing accessibility of Indigenous literature for Native youths is set to travel 403 miles across the Navajo Nation with the goal of increasing literacy and literary opportunities.

Starting in Window Rock on April 1, NDNGBC will go in four directions of the Navajo Nation, driving through Leupp and Tuba City before ending in Shiprock on April 5.

Launched in April 2023, the book club began as a literary resource providing workshops and literature to Native youths.

Founder Kinsale Drake has been working in literature since she was 17 years old and hopes to provide literary access to those on reservations that accurately depict them.

Drake holds a bachelor’s of arts degree in ethnicity, race and migration and English from Yale University.

“It's my wish that everybody who doesn't feel back at home, they feel that they can be reflected in media, accurately and healthily,” she said.

The group teamed up with Cellular One, Abolone Mountain Press, 4KINSHIP and SBi Giving Foundation. Drake said the collaboration with Cellular One comes from one of mutual understanding in helping the elders and youths on the reservation.

“Because for them, Book Club was like this new shining example of a form of mutual aid that really was taking into account what best serves Indigenous knowledge ways, and community,” she said.

Publishers have generously donated the books that will be distributed. Drake said all the books wall be new and primarily focused on contemporary stories written by Indigenous authors.

“People will have better access to these beautiful things that I think too often are treated like a luxury, when in fact, they should be in every household on the Navajo Nation,” she said.

Drake describes the foundation of discovering Native authors and stories as grassroots, coming from a writing background and meeting those writers in different communities.

“Because as we know, our education systems have been really violent to us in the past, not too many generations back, like my grandparents, and my great-grandparents went to boarding schools, and that definitely influences our literature and also how we view books,” she said “So it’s really great having a network of authors who understand those circumstances and those stakes that are at play in something like this.”

Lily Painter speaks with a child after choosing a free book at the NDN Girls Book Club launch on April 22 in Phoenix. (Alx Lee/Tri-City Record)

Lily Painter, co-coordinator and graphic designer, added to the demand and the diverse stories Native communities are asking for.

“We're able to expand outside of what mainstream press or the media know about what Native people want in literature,” she said “Being able to give out books centered around growing up Navajo, having baby books teaching you how to speak Navajo, or your Kinaalda and having a crush on a boy in your class at school, there are books that exist now, those are stories we can share with kids.”

The four directions of the book drop tour hold a philosophy with the book club, starting in the east and traveling in those specific directions, Drake said.

“Because just stopping in one place would be too few and the Navajo Nation is the size of West Virginia,” she said “It’s so vast.”

Drake said she hopes to continue with the NDNGBC book drops every year throughout a different reservation.

At their final stop in Shiprock, NDNGBC will be at the Diné College library.

“It's just a common thing that happens with libraries in America in general is that we see that people don't know the resources that libraries can provide because there's just not enough education around what they have available,” she said.

Kinsale Drake, founder, has been working in literature since she was 17 years old and holds a bachelor’s of arts in ethnicity, race and migration and English from Yale University. (Alx Lee/Tri-City Record)

In an interview with Tri-City Record, Drake spoke to the effects of the negative depictions of Native people in media.

“This is a scientific fact, proven by decades of study in these fields in psychology as well,” she said. “Native students have the lowest graduation rates from high school, from college, but that’s not because, you know, we are inherently any less smart or motivated than any other community.”

Rather, Drake said youths are exposed to the stereotypes and stigmas around themselves and their culture, which leaves an impact on their mental health and self-image.

An eventgoer signs up for the NDN Girls Book Club listing at their launch April 22 in Phoenix at the Nurture House. Alx Lee/Tri-City Record

“I think all of us have to remember that education systems aren't made for us,” she said. “America wants us to forget that only a couple of decades ago, education and literature were tools of violence and assimilation through boarding schools, making us speak English through punishing us for speaking our native languages and practicing our religions and practicing our beliefs.”

There’s a nuance to the stories dealing with real issues Native people still face, such as alcoholism and drug use, she said.

“I think something book club tries to do, and I think something that this tour really encompasses is sort of offering, what representation is out there,” Painter said. “Being able to give our readers and our communities the path to validate their identity through the literature they’re reading and the media that they're consuming.”

The Senator John Pinto Library, at the Diné College South Campus in Shiprock, opened in 2011 to the students and community. The library serves as a resource for literature, research and gatherings. (Alx Lee/Tri-City Record)
A literature desert

The Senator John Pinto Library, located at Diné College’ Shiprock South Campus, opened in 2011 and has been the only resource for literature in the community.

Outside of school libraries and nonprofit organizations, youths do not have access to books.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, the library saw a significant drop in community traffic, said branch librarian Darwyn Henderson.

Most often, community members are not aware of the space and the resources it offers. Visitors find out through word of mouth, he said.

The library offers a section of Native American titles and authors for adults and youths.

As librarian, Henderson said the Native literature keeps a good circulation and the library will purchase what’s available.

During the book drop, the library hopes to utilize its entire space, including the auditorium and the story circle space, for youths.

Henderson hopes the book drop tour will help more community members will find out about the library and its resources.

Senator John Pinto Library holds a section of adult and children’s literature featuring Native authors and stories. (Alx Lee/Tri-City Record)
Senator John Pinto Library, located at the Diné College Shiprock South Campus, will be the location for the last stop on the Yiłta Book Tour in April. (Alx Lee/Tri-City Record)