When I Was Eight

Olemaun is eight and knows a lot of things. But she does not know how to read. Ignoring her father’s warnings, she travels far from her Arctic home to the outsiders’ school to learn. The nuns at the school call her Margaret. They cut off her long hair and force her to do menial chores, but she remains undaunted. Her tenacity draws the attention of a black-cloaked nun who tries to break her spirit at every turn. But the young girl is more determined than ever to learn how to read.

A Stranger at Home

The powerful memoir of an Inuvialuit girl searching for her true self when she returns from residential school. Traveling to be reunited with her family in the Arctic, 10-year-old Margaret Pokiak can hardly contain her excitement. It’s been two years since her parents delivered her to the school run by the dark-cloakednuns and brothers. Coming ashore, Margaret spots her family, but her mother barely recognizes her, screaming, “Not my girl.” Margaret realizes she is now marked as an outsider. And Margaret is an outsider: she has forgotten the language and stories of her people, and she can’t even stomach the food her mother prepares. However, Margaret gradually relearns her language and her family’s way of living. Along the way, she discovers how important it is to remain true to the ways of her people — and to herself. Highlighted by archival photos and striking artwork, this first-person account of a young girl’s struggle to find her place will inspire young readers to ask what it means to belong.

See the review at WOW Review, Volume 4, Issue 2

Fatty Legs

The moving memoir of an Inuit girl who emerges from a residential school with her spirit intact.Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak has set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic. Faced with unceasing pressure, her father finally agrees to let her make the five-day journey to attend school, but he warns Margaret of the terrors of residential schools.At school Margaret soon encounters the Raven, a black-cloaked nun with a hooked nose and bony fingers that resemble claws. She immediately dislikes the strong-willed young Margaret. Intending to humiliate her, the heartless Raven gives gray stockings to all the girls — all except Margaret, who gets red ones. In an instant Margaret is the laughing stock of the entire school.In the face of such cruelty, Margaret refuses to be intimidated and bravely gets rid of the stockings. Although a sympathetic nun stands up for Margaret, in the end it is this brave young girl who gives the Raven a lesson in the power of human dignity.Complemented by archival photos from Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s collection and striking artwork from Liz Amini-Holmes, this inspiring first-person account of a plucky girl’s determination to confront her tormentor will linger with young readers.

See the review at WOW Review, Volume 4, Issue 2

Mush-Hole: Memories of a Residential School

When Maddie Harper was seven years old, she found herself in the Brantford School in Ontario with about 200 other little girls who called it “mush-hole” because mush was their daily fare. Here, Harper tells of her eight years at the school, the cultural degradation she was forced to endure, her escape at age 15, her alienation from her community, her descent into alcoholism and finally, her return to traditional ways and recovery.

My Name Is Seepeetza

Her name was Seepeetza when she was at home with her family. But now that she’s living at the Indian residential school her name is Martha Stone, and everything else about her life has changed as well. Told in the honest voice of a sixth grader, this is the story of a young Native girl forced to live in a world governed by strict nuns, arbitrary rules, and a policy against talking in her own dialect, even with her family. Seepeetza finds bright spots, but most of all she looks forward to summers and holidays at home. This autobiographical novel is written in the form of Seepeetza’s diary.

No Time To Say Goodbye: Children’s Stories Of Kuper Island Residential School

For most North Americans, the practice of sending First Nations children to aboriginal boarding schools is a chapter in history that seems best forgotten. But the generations of children who were rounded up and sent to those faraway schools won’t ever forget the day-to-day reality of that “chapter.” Often taken without warning or time to say goodbye to their families, children as young as five had their hair cropped short and their clothes taken away. Then they were deloused, dressed in uniforms and forbidden to speak their native language or practise their traditional arts, religion or dances. No Time to Say Goodbye is a fictional account of five children sent to aboriginal boarding school, based on the recollections of a number of Tsartlip First Nations people. These unforgettable children are taken by government agents from Tsartlip Day School to live at Kuper Island Residential School. The five are isolated on the small island and life becomes regimented by the strict school routine. They experience the pain of homesickness and confusion while trying to adjust to a world completely different from their own. Their lives are no longer organized by fishing, hunting and family, but by bells, line-ups and chores. In spite of the harsh realities of the residential school, the children find adventure in escape, challenge in competition, and camaraderie with their fellow students. Sometimes sad, sometimes funny, always engrossing, No Time to Say Goodbye is a story that readers of all ages won’t soon forget.