On September 30th we reflect on our obligation to reconcile the truth of the grievous historic injustice committed against First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples in the Canadian Indian residential school system. 

“By shining the light on a dark part of our past we have a chance to create a bright new day for aboriginals and all Canadians. We will all know what happened and then come to realize that what happens now and our vision for a future together is what really counts. Together we will stand for what is right and the intention of Indian residential schools and colonization will not happen again!” -- With Deep Respect, Chief Robert Joseph, Executive Director, Indian Residential School Survivors Society British Columbia 

Check out the rising voices from First Nations, Metis and Inuit authors in a multitude of stories about strength in the face of unimaginable adversity. May reflection awaken your moral courage.


Picture Books

I’m Finding My Talk by Rebecca Thomas 

Award-winning spoken word artist and Mi’kmaw activist Rebecca Thomas reflects on working through the destructive effects of colonialism as the child of a parent who attended Shubenacadie Indian Residential School. In this picture book, a second generation survivor shares how she rediscovers her community by sewing regalia, dancing at powwow, learning traditional language and more.

The Train by Jodie Callaghan 

Mi’gmaq storyteller Jodie Callaghan from the Listuguj First Nation relates a conversation between a young girl and her grandfather. Ashley comes across her grandfather at an abandoned train station and asks why he is sad. Based on the ‘train of tears’ that took children to Shubenacadie Indian Residential School, her grandfather shares memories as he waits at the track “for what we lost that day to come back to us.”

Stolen Words by Melanie Florence 

Award-winning writer Melanie Florence of Cree and Scottish heritage writes a picture book based on her grandfather’s experiences in a Canadian residential school illustrating the beautiful, healing relationship between a little girl and her grandfather. It portrays a survivor’s strengths.

When We Were Alone by David Robertson 

Member of Norway House Cree Nation based in Winnipeg, award-winning writer David Robertson illuminates a dialogue between a young girl and her Nokum (grandmother.)  She comes to understand that her Nokum’s choices to wear colours, keep her hair long, speak Cree, and connect with family reflect positive protest against the injustices she experienced in a Canadian residential school where Indigenous cultural expressions were not permitted.

Swift Fox All Along by Rebecca Thomas

Poet and Mi’kmaw activist Rebecca Thomas from Lennox Island First Nation draws on the cultural dislocation she experienced as the daughter of a Canadian residential school survivor. The Canadian residential school program fractured survivors from the generation before them (their parents) and after them (their kids.) This story shares a young girl’s first visit to the reserve to meet her family. It reflects the girl’s introduction to a culture she hasn’t had an opportunity to participate in regularly.


Junior Fiction

These Are My Words: The Residential School Diary of Violet Peshens by Ruby Slipperjack

Acclaimed author Ruby Slipperjack from the Fort Hope Indian Band in Ontario offers a moving portrayal of  a 12-year-old girl’s experience at the Shingwauk Indian Residential School. When everything, including her name, is taken from her, she records her memories in her notebook as a way to hold on to her identity.

No Time to Say Goodbye: Children’s Stories of Kuper Island Residential School by Sylvia Olsen

Sylvia Olsen, a caucasian woman who lives in Tsartlip First Nation, draws on actual recollections of Indigenous children forced to attend Tsartlip Indian Day School. This moving, character-driven story shares how the children cope with abuse through consolation in one another.

The Journey Forward: A Novella on Reconciliation - When We Play Our Drums They Sing! By Richard Van Camp

Award-winning author and member of the Dogrib Nation from the Northwest Territories, Richard Van Camp shares the story of a 12-year-old boy who is angry that his people are losing their language, traditions and ways of being. An Elder helps Dene Cho understand the traumatic legacy of the Fort Smith residential schools on survivors and their families.

The Journey Forward: A Novella on Reconciliation - Lucy & Lola by Monique Gray Smith

Mixed-heritage woman of Cree, Lakota and Scottish ancestry, Monique Gray Smith shares the story of two 11-year-old twin girls who learn about their Kookum’s (grandmother) experience in being sent - and having to send their mother - to a Canadian residential school. They ultimately discover what it means to be intergenerational survivors.

Shi-Shi-Etko by Nicola I. Campbell 

Award-winning author Nicola I. Campbell is of Salish, Syilx, and Metis ancestry whose parents attended Canadian residential school. She depicts the innocence prior to the loss that comes when a young girl will be forced to leave behind all that she knows. Consider also the moving sequel Shin-Chi’s Canoe about two children’s experiences at a Canadian residential school.


Junior Non-Fiction

I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis

Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis of Anishinaabe/Ojibway ancestry and a member of Nipissing First Nation, recounts her grandmother’s abduction to one of the Spanish Indian Residential Schools. The raw hopelessness amid the losses and abuses she sustained are brought to light in a way that children can learn from and relate to. 

When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton

Christy Jordan-Fenton, a caucasian woman whose mother-in-law Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, a Mackenzie Inuit, attended Aklavik Anglican Indian Residential School, revises the bestselling memoir for younger readers. An Inuvialuit girl perseveres despite negative attention from the nuns and empowers herself by learning to read. 

A Stranger at Home by Christy Jordan-Fenton 

Christy Jordan-Fenton shares her mother-in-law Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s stories of reintegration post Aklavik Anglican Indian Residential School. This powerful memoir traces an Inuvialuit girl’s difficult journey to reconcile her old self with her new self and find her place in her community. 

Aggie and Mudgy: The Journey of Two Kaska Dena Children by Wendy Proverbs

Debut author Wendy Proverbs is of Kaska Dena descent. She relates the frightening story of her biological mother and aunt as they are taken from their families to attend a Canadian residential school. The focus on the physical journey of being uprooted and transported far from home conveys one of the myriad ways in which colonialism fractured families. It highlights what perseverance looks like for survivors and their descendants. 

As Long as the Rivers Flow: A Last Summer Before Residential School by Larry Loyie 

Writer Larry Loyie is a Cree First Nations man who shares adventures from his last summer before being forced to attend St. Bernard Mission residential school in Grouard, Alberta.


Young Adult Fiction/Non-Fiction

Powwow Summer by Nahanni Shingoose

Nahanni Shingoose is Saulteaux, originally from Roseau River First Nation, and she writes a story of a teen girl who sees firsthand the multi-generational effects of the Canadian residential school system when she visits family on a reserve. 

The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book by Gord Hill

Kwakwaka’wakw nation artist and activist Gord Hill offers a far-reaching perspective on Indigenous Peoples resistance movements to European colonization of the Americas. It documents the fighting spirit through 500 years of genocide, massacres, torture, rape, displacement, and assimilation: a necessary antidote to the conventional history of the Americas.


Adult Non-Fiction

Call Me Indian by Fred Sasakamoose

Fred Sasakamoose, member of the Cree nation in Saskatchewan, was a trailblazer as the First Treaty Indigenous player in the NHL. This memoir shares his journey from the trauma he experienced at Duck Lake residential school to playing in the NHL before First Nations people had the right to vote in Canada. As Wab Kinew put it [this memoir makes you] “cheer for ‘Fast Freddy’ as he faces off against huge challenges both on and off the ice.” 

Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age by Darrel McLeod

In his first book, Darrel McLeod, a Cree man from Treaty 8 territory in Northern Alberta, shares a powerful story of resilience. The cruelty his mother endured at a Canadian residential school had ripple effects on their family life. 

The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir by Joseph Auguste Merasty

Joseph A. Merasty, a Cree man from Manitoba, offers a courageous and intimate chronicle of his life at St. Therese Residential School in Saskatchewan. The Canadian government’s aggressive assimilation did more than attempt to mold children in the ways of white society. Students were taught to be ashamed of their native heritage and often suffered physical and sexual abuse. 

Wawahte by Robert P. Wells

Robert P. Wells is a caucasian man who shares the personal stories of Elders including Esther at Pelican Lake Day School and Bunnie at McIntosh Indian Residential School so that all Canadians may understand the massive traumatic alienation that Indigenous people experienced from their cultures, families and communities.

Up Ghost River: A Chief’s Journey Through the Turbulent Waters of Native History by Edmund Metatawabin

Former First Nations chief Edmund Metatawabin is a Cree writer, educator and activist who reveals the physical, sexual and emotional abuse he suffered at St. Anne’s Indian Residential School. Routinely humiliated, beaten, forced to eat vomit, and electrocuted n a homemade electric chair in addition to sexual abuse, the official documents that proved these crimes eventually resulted in acknowledgment and compensation.

Spilexm: A Weaving of Recovery, Resilience, and Resurgence by Nicola I. Campbell

Award-winning author Nicola I. Campbell is of Salish, Syilx, and Metis ancestry whose parents attended residential school. She weaves poetry and prose into a basket of memories on what it means to be an intergenerational survivor of Canadian residential schools.


Adult Fiction

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

Michelle Good is a writer of Cree ancestry and member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. She pens a novel about children taken from their families to a remote, church-run Canadian residential school and how they struggle to survive their traumatic experiences. 

The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson

Dr. Patti Laboucane-Benson is a Métis woman from Treaty 6 territory in Alberta. This graphic novel is an extension of her work in Human Ecology focusing on Aboriginal Family Resilience. It takes readers into the journey of a young Cree First Nation man from a life of violence and gangs to healing. The story arc shows the tragic toll of attending Akaitcho Hall in Yellowknife and the importance of historic trauma healing programs for Indigenous offenders.

Secret Path by Gord Downie

Gord Downie was a rock musician and activist who co-authored this graphic novel to tell the story of Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, a twelve-year-old boy who died in flight from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School.

Wenjack by Joseph Boyden

Canadian novelist and short story writer Joseph Boyden offers a powerful look into the flight of a Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School runaway. 

As Long As the Rivers Flow by James Bartleman

Accomplished memoirist and former Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario James Bartleman, of Anishinaabeg and Ojibway descent, dedicates his novel ‘to the memory of the Native youth who have taken their lives as a result of the Indian residential school experiences of their parents and of the parents of their parents before them.’ He writes a novel that follows a girl flown far away from her family to a Northwest Territory residential school and the sexual abuse she experienced there.


Learn more here: Indian Residential School Survivors Society

More books on residential schools: 48 Books

See also: Starting a conversation with your children about Canadian residential schools