Many Canadians are disappointed in our slow progress towards the 94 calls to action set out in the Truth and Reconciliation Report. See Ian Mosby’s Twitter feed for updates (and a nonsensical reply from Joseph Boyden, if you dig for it):
However, I am pleased to find that my kids, in grades one and two, are learning about residential schools. Most of the learning happened on Orange Shirt Day, but hopefully this will become a regular part of the curriculum.
It can’t just end at school, though. I could tell from the questions they asked me that they didn’t quite understand what happened, and why. So I got them some books. I also happened to read a short story collection touching on residential schools at the same time. Here are three ways to learn more about residential schools in Canada, for whatever level you are at.
Beginner: Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes
This is a great introductory book, whether you are completely new to the concept of Indian Residential Schools, or, you are reading to or with a young child (or anyone) who’s not ready for graphic depictions of abuse. It’s good for those new to the concept because the book is full of photographs and details from Margaret Pokiak-Fention’s real-life experience, and unfamiliar terms and phrases are defined. It’s a compelling story about a little girl who wants to read, so young children can relate. There is abuse depicted in this book, it’s just not as graphic, detailed, or disturbing as the other books listed.
I read this to my seven-year-old, and he begged me to finish it in one sitting, and demanded that I read every photo caption and every definition. He even made a video review for his blog, which I swear was his idea!
Intermediate: I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer and Illustrated by Gillian Newland
I Am Not a Number is more intense. It depicts physical abuse, and, unlike Margaret in Fatty Legs, who wants to go to school, the young heroine is ripped away from her family in the introductory scene. My kids had a harder time getting into the story. This book is probably more appropriate for older children or those who already know a bit about residential schools.
Advanced: Annie Muktuk and Other Stories by Norma Dunning
Annie Muktuk was the October selection for RISE Book Club, which you should check out if you’re in Edmonton. This book isn’t for kids. The stories that are set in residential school are are brutal in their depiction of violence and abuse. Not all the stories are set there, but all, in some way,, are about the fall out of the schools and other colonial policies. Annie Mukluk is the heroine of a set of linked short stories that depict young, contemporary Inuk people. She’s the kind of woman you can’t keep your eyes off of, and the reader is enthralled too. And there’s lots of sex (did I mention this one isn’t for kids?). When I met Norma Dunning at the book club meeting, I had to ask if the scene in which a young man seduces several women by borrowing a hairdressers sink, installing it in his living room, and offering free scalp massages was based on a true story. (Indeed it was.) This may be the best collection I read this year.
Do you use books to talk to your kids about difficult subjects? Any more residential schools recommendations for me?