My grandfather, grandmother, father, aunts, and uncles were forced to attend these institutions devised by the federal government and run by Christian churches to assimilate Indigenous people into Western culture. These schools started after 1880 with the last one closing in 1996.
To understand this period in Canadian History, I highly recommend A Knock on the Door: The Essential History of Residential Schools from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Many residential school survivors shared their stories. Although I’m only listing a few memoirs, there are many more available.
My Decade at Old Sun, My Lifetime of Hell by Arthur Bear Chief
My father has a few memoirs by those who attended the Indian Residential Schools. He gave me this copy to read. The author goes into deep detail of his experiences at residential school and his battle with the government later on in his life.
Here is the blurb taken from Amazon:
In a series of chronological vignettes, Arthur Bear Chief depicts the punishment, cruelty, abuse, and injustice that he endured at Old Sun Residential School and then later relived in the traumatic process of retelling his story at an examination for discovery in connection with a lawsuit brought against the federal government. Late in life, he returned to Gleichen, Alberta on the Siksika nation—to the home left to him by his mother—and it was there that he began to reconnect with Blackfoot language and culture. Although the terrific adversity Bear Chief faced in his childhood made an indelible mark on his life, his unyielding spirit is evident throughout his story.
Not Wolf, Nor Dog by Wilmer F. Nadjiwon
This is another book my dad passed on to me. I’m currently reading the author’s memoir and enjoying what he has to say. He covers different areas in his life from his youth to adulthood. He is a woodcarver and artist. His works are shown throughout the book.
An Ojibway Elder’s tales of residential school, wartime service, First Nations politics and some experience with the Great Spirit. Alternately soaring and appalling, Wilmer Nadjiwon’s stories tell of his idyllic childhood on Cape Croker Reserve, the torment and abuse of Residential School, the Front Lines in WWII Europe, 15 years as Chief of Cape Croker Reserve, his success as a wood carver and much more.
This was the only buy link I could find: Amazon.ca.
Up Ghost River: A Chief’s Journey Through the Turbulent Waters of Native History by Edmund Metatawabin
My father read this one and told me this is an excellent read. I’ve yet to dig into this book but it’s in my TBR pile.
Blurb taken from Amazon:
After being separated from his family at age 7, Metatawabin was assigned a number and stripped of his Native identity. At his residential school–one of the worst in Canada–he was physically and emotionally abused, and was sexually abused by one of the staff. Leaving high school, he turned to alcohol to forget the trauma. He later left behind his wife and family, and fled to Edmonton, where he joined a Native support group that helped him come to terms with his addiction and face his PTSD. By listening to elders’ wisdom, he learned how to live an authentic Native life within a modern context, thereby restoring what had been taken from him years earlier. Metatawabin has worked tirelessly to bring traditional knowledge to the next generation of Native youth and leaders, as a counsellor at the University of Alberta, Chief in his Fort Albany community, and today as a youth worker, Native spiritual leader and activist. His work championing indigenous knowledge, sovereignty and rights spans several decades and has won him awards and national recognition. His story gives a personal face to the problems that beset Native communities and fresh solutions, and untangles the complex dynamics that sparked the Idle No More movement. Haunting and brave, Up Ghost River is a necessary step toward our collective healing.
They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School by Bev Sellars
My dad has read this one and highly recommended the book to me. I’ve yet to read it. What can I say? My TBR pile is huge. But I will read her story.
Blurb taken from Amazon:
Like thousands of Aboriginal children in Canada, and elsewhere in the colonized world, Xatsu’ll chief Bev Sellars spent part of her childhood as a student in a church-run residential school.
These institutions endeavored to civilize” Native children through Christian teachings; forced separation from family, language, and culture; and strict discipline. Perhaps the most symbolically potent strategy used to alienate residential school children was addressing them by assigned numbers only – not by the names with which they knew and understood themselves.
In this frank and poignant memoir of her years at St. Joseph’s Mission, Sellars breaks her silence about theresidential school’s lasting effects on her and her family – from substance abuse to suicide attempts – and eloquently articulates her own path to healing. Number One comes at a time of recognition – by governments and society at large – that only through knowing the truth about these past injustices can we begin to redress them.
Broken Circle: The Dark Legacy of the Indian Residential Schools by Theodore Fontaine
I haven’t read this book but it’s something I’ll purchase for my TBR pile.
Blurb from Amazon:
Theodore Fontaine lost his family and freedom just after his seventh birthday, when his parents were forced to leave him at an Indian residential school by order of the Roman Catholic Church and the Government of Canada. Twelve years later, he left school frozen at the emotional age of seven. He was confused, angry and conflicted, on a path of self-destruction. At age 29, he emerged from this blackness. By age 32, he had graduated from the Civil Engineering Program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and begun a journey of self-exploration and healing.
In this powerful and poignant memoir, Theodore examines the impact of his psychological, emotional and sexual abuse, the loss of his language and culture, and, most important, the loss of his family and community. He goes beyond details of the abuses of Native children to relate a unique understanding of why most residential school survivors have post-traumatic stress disorders and why succeeding generations of First Nations children suffer from this dark chapter in history.
Told as remembrances described with insights that have evolved through his healing, his story resonates with his resolve to help himself and other residential school survivors and to share his enduring belief that one can pick up the shattered pieces and use them for good.
Have you read any books on the Indian Residential Schools in Canada or American Indian Boarding Schools in the United States? If so, please share your recommendations.