4 Orange Shirt Day Books about Residential Schools in Canada

By | September 30, 2018

Orange Shirt Day, which takes place on September 30, is an annual event that started in 2013.  The day was inspired by Phyllis Webstad who, at the age of six, was stripped of her new orange shirt on her first day at St. Joseph Mission residential school.  The purpose of this day is to educate people and promote awareness about the Indian residential school system and the impact this system had on Indigenous communities for more than a century in Canada.

Below is a list of books about the Residential School System in Canada and its impact on FNMI communities:

1. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

The story takes place in late 1950s Ontario, where eight-year-old Saul Indian Horse is torn from his Ojibway family and committed to one of Canada’s notorious Catholic Residential Schools. In this oppressive environment, Saul is denied the freedom to speak his language or embrace his Indigenous culture and he witnesses and experiences all kinds of abuse at the hands of the very people who were entrusted with his care. Despite this, Saul finds salvation in the unlikeliest of places and the most favourite of Canadian pastimes — hockey.


2. Stolen Words by Melanie Florence

Stolen Words

The story of the beautiful relationship between a little girl and her grandfather. When she asks her grandfather how to say something in his language – Cree – he admits that his language was stolen from him when he was a boy. The little girl then sets out to help her grandfather find his language again.


3. I am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis

I am not a number

When eight-year-old Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school she is confused, frightened, and terribly homesick. She tries to remember who she is and where she came from, despite the efforts of the nuns who are in charge at the school and who tell her that she is not to use her own name but instead use the number they have assigned to her. When she goes home for summer holidays, Irene’s parents decide never to send her and her brothers away again.


4. Dear Canada: These Are My Words by Ruby Slipperjack


Violet Pesheens is struggling to adjust to her new life at residential school. She misses her Grandma; she has run-ins with Cree girls; at her “white” school, everyone just stares; and everything she brought has been taken from her, including her name — she is now just a number.But worst of all, she is afraid of forgetting the things she treasures most: her Anishnabe language, the names of those she knew before and her traditional customs. A fear of forgetting who she was.


Canada systematically forced kids into residential schools – forbidden to speak their language or practice their culture. So how should teachers talk to our kids about it?

We need to take time to learn about what happened. Schools play an important role in creating and sustaining a change in the attitude of all Canadians to the positive relationship that must exist between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada. The following article, written in Maclean’s magazine, provides a good overview of how the topic of residential schools can be taught in schools today, with links to resiliency learning. Despite this, teaching Aboriginal history of Canada must also go beyond the residential school system. Positive contributions of Inuit, First Nations and Metis should also be taught, whether it is the story of runner Tom Longboat or the celebrated paintings of Kenojuak Ashevak etc. It is essential that we combine every negative event with a positive one so that our attitudes toward FNMI change.


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