Residential schools for First Nations, Métis and Inuit kids were run by church organizations in partnership with the Canadian government from 1883 until 1969. Designed to force Indigenous children to assimilate into “Canadian” culture by taking away access to their culture, spirituality, parents and communities, attendance was mandatory and the intergenerational effects have been devastating.
Most of the remaining schools closed in the 1970s, but there was still a federally-operated school operating as late as 1996. It’s estimated that 150,000 kids were sent to these schools, and the legacy of neglect, lack of education (many of these institutions were glorified workhouses) and abuse — both physical and sexual —is still being felt today. It’s a difficult part of Canada’s history to talk about, especially with kids, but reconciliation begins with understanding the past. Read on for some kid-friendly books that can help.
When We Were Alone
Written by David Alexander Robertson and illustrated by Julie Flett, Portage & Main Press (AGES 4–8)
One of the few books that teach younger kids about the residential schools, When We Were Alone is set years after a little girl’s grandmother was sent to residential school. As they work together in a garden, the granddaughter asks her grandmother questions about her colourful clothes and long braided hair. The answers reveal what life was like for her at the school, and the whole tale is strikingly illustrated by Cree-Métis author and illustrator Julie Flett.
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