September 30 marks National Truth and Reconciliation Day, a day intended to honor children who never returned home and residential school survivors, as well as their families and communities.
Many people have not learned the history of residential schools because it was not part of the school curriculum until recently and was rarely talked about.
I have met many people who were angry when they first learned about this story. I firmly believe that knowledge is power, and by reading or listening to stories of indigenous peoples, everyone can learn these stories and start working towards reconciliation.
I have long had an interest in this area, so I would like to recommend some books that I have read by indigenous writers.
David A. Robertson is a member of the Swampy Cree Nation and now lives in Winnipeg.
In his memoirs, black waterRobertson travels with his father, Don, back to the family trap.
Don grew up in the trap before he was placed in a residential school. In a personal and emotional memoir of him, Robertson learns about his father’s history and how he affected his own family life.
Robertson has also written several children’s books, and his illustrated book when we were alone can be used to teach children about the impact of residential schools, in a tone appropriate for younger children. This book is beautifully illustrated by writer/illustrator Julie Flett, a Cree/Métis author.
For those who prefer to read fiction, I recommend Michelle Good’s debut novel. five little indians.
Good, of Cree descent, is a poet and attorney who has spent part of her career advocating for residential school survivors. five little indians follows five teenagers coming out of residential school and trying to make their way in the world.
Some of the characters end up living in the jungle, while others fight on the streets of Vancouver. It is a powerful novel with fully realized characters showing how boarding school has affected them. This book is a national bestseller and a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, one of Canada’s highest literary awards.
They called me number one is a memoir written by Chief Bev Sellars of the Xatsull First Nation.
Sellars recalls her years at St. Joseph’s Mission School in Williams Lake, BC, and how she and her mother and grandmother were affected by attending residential schools.
The title describes a practice used at St. Joseph’s Missionary School. Instead of being called by their names, the children were given numbers and Sellars was referred to as “number one”. In this book, she details the suffering she experienced and its impact on her mental health and her family. She also describes her own path to healing.
I have met people who are overwhelmed when it comes to indigenous issues, so if you want to learn some basics about indigenous issues in Canada, I have two suggestions.
First, I recommend Chelsea Vowel’s first book indigenous writings.
Vowel is a mixed race woman from the Lac Ste. Anne area of Alberta. indigenous writings is an excellent manual for understanding indigenous issues in Canada. It is written in plain language with a healthy dose of sarcasm.
This book will change and challenge your assumptions about First Nations, Métis, and Inuit issues, dispel myths, and explain things in a way that is relatively easy to follow. Vowel explains things like “the 1960s scoop,” “the amount of blood,” and how indigenous people are taxed.
Thomas King the inconvenient indian is another book that examines what it means to be indigenous in Canada.
King is a celebrated novelist, children’s writer, and mystery writer of Cherokee and Greek descent. This book looks at the relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous people and delves into how indigenous people are represented in pop culture.
National Truth and Reconciliation Day is just one day, but it’s a call to action for everyone.
And for some, that action can start with picking up a book or two, reading, and learning more.