Residential Schools Novels, Memoirs, and Picture Books

Residential schools have had a considerable impact on children, families, and entire communities. In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people on behalf of Canada for a over a century of residential schools.

This small action helped to expose Canadians to this long-hidden aspect of our history. This is a topic that is often ignored, denied, or brushed aside. It’s impossible for us to move forward as a country without acknowledging our past.

I did some reading about it this summer, and found some wonderful books that I’d like to share with you. I hope that teachers will find these resources useful. This is a subject that should be covered in social studies and history classes.

Wawahte as told to Robert P. Wells by Indian Residential School Survivors 

“The legacy of Canada’s  Indian Residential School system needs to be addressed if we, as a nation, are to move forward. Learning and knowing about our history is a prerequisite to our healing of today and the restoration of our families and culture.”

Very wise words from an elder who spent eleven continuous years at a Residential school. You hear her story and that of two others in this book. There is also a appendix that lists all of the schools that operated in Canada over a 150 year period and which church operated each one. There are historical records in here as well (including some of the official apologies that have been made to the First Nations People)

This is definitely a great place to start of you want to learn about Canada’s Residential Schools.

Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

This is an amazing book. It tells the story of an Inuit girl’s experience at Residential School in a very real, open, and honest way. The artwork is beautiful and really helps tell the first person narrative. There are definitions of native words, photos, maps, and all sorts of interesting information.

The best thing about this book is that it tells a story that kids can relate to. I would highly recommend this for students in Grades 4 and up.

A Stranger at Home by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

This book is a sequel to Fatty Legs but it stands alone as well. Both books teach about the history of Residential school but this one helps illustrate the traditional life in the village more clearly. It also shows the damage the schools did to the rich culture of the First Nations people. You see this when Margaret comes home and she has forgotten her own language. As such, “she must begin a painful journey of learning how to fit in again, how to reconcile her old self with her new self.”

Shi-shi-etko by Nicola I. Campbell and Kim LaFave

Shi-shi-etko is forced to go to Residential School. It is the law, but her parents want her to remember that her name means “she loves to play in the water.” They want her to remember the sights and sounds of nature and their traditional way of life.

Shin-chi’s Canoe by Nicola I. Campbell and Kim LaFave

This is a sequel to Shi-shi-etko and it tells of how her younger brother brought a tiny wooden canoe that his dad had carved for him to residential school. He kept it hidden away and safe as a reminder of the rich culture awaiting him back home.

More Good Reads

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