Residential schools were a system of Canadian government funded religious schools for the purpose of assimilating Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian society. From 1831 to 1996, an estimated 150,000 children between the ages of 4 and 16 attended over 130 Canadian residential schools.
Indigenous children were taken from their homes, families, and communities and forced to attend these schools, where they were subjected to horrible abuses. Residential school attendees were forced to abandon their language, cultural beliefs, and traditional way of life and were forced to adopt English or French, Christianity, and a European lifestyle.
Thousands of children never returned home.
September 30 is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day that honours the lost children and Survivors of Canada’s residential schools, their families, and communities. It is a day to reflect on this painful and horrific part of Canada’s past and the intergenerational harm it has caused and to recognize, listen to, and respect the experiences and pain of those who have been impacted by Canada’s residential school system.
This year is the very first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and we recommend taking the opportunity to hear Indigenous voices and listen to their stories by reading their own words.
Books to Read with Your Child
Here are just a few books penned by Indigenous authors that you can read with your child to help them understand the purpose of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and support the path to healing.
Stolen Words by Melanie Florence
Winner of the 2018 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award, Stolen Words is the story of a little girl and her grandfather, who had his Cree language taken from him by the residential school system. Through this touching story, Florence explores the intergenerational impact of the residential school system and recognizes the pain of those whose culture and language were taken from them, how that pain is passed down through the generations, and how healing can be shared.
I Am Not A Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer
Based on the life of co-author Jenny Kay Dupuis’ grandmother, I Am Not A Number is the story of eight-year-old Irene who is taken to live in a residential school. She is confused, frightened, and homesick, and is given a number instead of her name. When she returns home for the summer holidays, Irene’s parents decide to never send her and her brothers away again. But where will they hide and what will happen when her parents disobey the law?
Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation by Monique Gray Smith
Healing and repairing Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous people requires education, awareness and increased understanding of the legacy and the impacts still being felt by residential school Survivors and their families. In this non-fiction work, readers will learn about the lives of Survivors and listen to allies who are putting the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into action.
Good for Nothing by Michel Noël
Winner of the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction, Good for Nothing tells the story of fifteen-year-old Nipishish and his return to his reserve after being kicked out of residential school. The reserve, however, offers nothing to Nipishish. He remembers little of his late mother and father. In fact, he seems to know less about himself than the people at the band office. He must try to rediscover the old ways, face the officials who find him a threat, and learn the truth about his father’s death.
Sugar Falls: A Residential School Story by David A. Robertson
This graphic novel is based on the true story of Betty Ross, Elder from Cross Lake First Nation. A school assignment to interview a residential school survivor leads Daniel to Betsy, his friend’s grandmother, who tells him her story. Abandoned as a young child, Betsy was soon adopted into a loving family. A few short years later, at the age of 8, everything changed. Betsy was taken away to a residential school. There she was forced to endure abuse and indignity, but Betsy recalled the words her father spoke to her at Sugar Falls ― words that gave her the resilience, strength, and determination to survive.
This work is best suited for mature students. We recommend parents/guardians ensure it is an appropriate fit for your child.
Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton
Based on the true story of author Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton, Fatty Legs tells the story of eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak, who has set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic. At school, Margaret soon encounters the Raven, a black cloaked nun with a hooked nose and bony fingers that resemble claws. She immediately dislikes the strong-willed Margaret and gives her red stockings, instead of the grey the other girls wear, in an attempt to humiliate her. In the end, this brave young girl gives the Raven a lesson in the power of human dignity.
When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton
An adaptation of Fatty Legs written for young readers. Olemaun is eight and knows a lot of things, but she doesn’t know how to read. She travels to the outsider’s school to learn. The nuns at the school call her Margaret. They cut off her long hair and force her to do menial chores, but she remains undaunted. Her tenacity draws the attention of a nun who tries to break her spirit at every turn, but the young girl is more determined than ever to learn how to read.