Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors: A National History written by Larry Loyie with Wayne K. Spear and Constance Brissenden
Indigenous Education Press, 2014
978-0-99393-710-1 (hc) $34.95
for Grades 7 and up

Non-Fiction | Aboriginal | Residential Schools | Canadian History

Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors is a history of the residential schools in Canada by award-winning Cree author Larry Loyie, himself a survivor of St. Bernard Mission residential school in Grouard, AB, writing with Mohawk author and educator Wayne K. Spear and author and editor Constance Brissenden. The book gives voice to the experiences and memories of more than 65 former students or family members across Canada.Loyie’s ninth book - that took 21 years to research and three years to complete - puts the residential school system into historical and political context without sensationalizing the events that affected all of Canada’s Aboriginal people and their communities.

This book covers a range of issues in seven chapters, including the importance of culture, traditions and families; life at school; the neglect and abuse of the students; friendship and laughter and the power of healing and education in a changing world. It also tries to answer questions such as these: Why did the residential schools happen? How did they continue? Why did they stop? How did they affect the children that attended the schools, as well as their families and communities? `

Included are full-colour photos as well as archival images of the schools, students and historical people and places, with explanatory captions that illustrate what the conditions were like. There are also present-day photos of former students and important events.

Interspersed amongst the chapters are sidebar boxes, such as "Survivor Speaks," that give personal accounts revealing survivors’ memories, which include being taken away by plane to a residential school and the morning routine of one student. "Facts and Figures" boxes give such important historical facts and statistics as the number of students, number of schools, number of trained teaching staff, etc. "Highlight" boxes highlight significant events in the history of the residential schools.

The book contains good reference material, such as a map showing the locations of residential schools across Canada; a list of key dates, highlighting important events in the history of the residential schools; a glossary that provides terms and definitions and an index that includes the names of schools and the names of the survivors mentioned in the book.

The material presented is a balance of historical facts and personal experiences. While thorough in its overview - timeline, politics behind the events (racist attitudes in society and politics) - it is not explicit in the details of the neglect and abuse, but specific facts and personal testimonies reveal the deplorable conditions the children who were taken away and living far from any family support had to endure while also demonstrating the incredible resilience of the survivors and what they did to cope.

The book is suitable/appropriate for students 12 and up as a resource for one period of Canadian history that reveals the struggles of Aboriginal people to self-identify and their fight for equal rights and survival as a culture in Canada.

Karri Yano is a Toronto writer and editor

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