Is it a coincidence that I started reading Five Little Indians by Michelle Good the same week we read in the newspapers about the discovery of a mass grave containing 215 bodies of Indigenous children in Kamloops, B.C.? Governments at all levels as well as the Catholic church (although it wasn’t only Catholic churches that ran residential schools) have a lot to answer for. It’s hard to conceive of little children being wrenched from their homes at six years of age because the government and the church assisted by the RCMP egotistically and erroneously insisted they could do a better job of raising them than the children’s parents. Beyond belief.
The Catholic church is simply a business that needs to be fed. While professing a higher calling, they need financial support to survive and pay their overheads. Kidnapping and recruiting entire generations of indigenous children to become future followers seemed like it would offer a guaranteed revenue stream. And, because the Canadian government wanted to assimilate Indigenous people into the general population, they were complicit. But the plan was horribly flawed and later generations are still paying the price.
Every Canadian is aware of the problems within so many of our indigenous communities. There are shortages of jobs, affordable fresh fruit and vegetables, social problems including, overcrowding, poverty and substance abuse. How can governments allow communities to still have “Boil Water” alerts in place for more than 25 years! We’re all tired of the excuses and impatient to see these problems resolved.
Author Michelle Good.
Five Little Indians is a fictional story based on real-life recollections, of five native children who were seized from their parents in the late sixties. They were transported to unknown destinations and placed in cruel and despotic residential schools run by sadistic nuns, priests, and religious brothers. The fallout from their experiences affected not only their own lives but those of their parents, their children, extended family, and subsequent generations. The author is of Cree heritage and she relates the stories she heard from her own family to create this moving, compelling novel.
Author Michelle Good is a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. Good has an MFA and a law degree from the University of British Columbia and, as a lawyer, advocated for residential-school survivors. Her insights, intelligence and experiences with the struggles of indigenous people are first-hand.
The main characters in Five Little Indians, Lucy, Kenny, Clara, Howie, and Maisie meet as children at a remote residential school in British Columbia. Although they are not allowed to communicate with each other, they form a psychic bond through their mutual hate of the facility and their suffering resulting from being separated for years from their families. When they reconnect as adults living in Vancouver’s rough east side, the scars from their residential school experience and separation from their families remain. They cope in different ways.
The conditions described in this book are brutal but it is important to read their story in order to gain a better understanding of what these children and their families endured. The horrors did not end in 1996 when the last of the residential schools closed, as former inmates and their families are still suffering the repercussions generations later.
Four years ago I read and reviewed (In order to be truly proud, Canada still has work to do) another book, Invisible North by Alexandra Shimo. As a young journalist, she moved to a reserve to experience and further understand the challenges faced by indigenous Canadians. The book was powerful reading and I highly recommend reading it as well.
Another book I highly recommend is From The Ashes by Jesse Thistle. It’s the true story of how Thistle and his two brothers were abandoned by their Cree mother when they were 3, 4, and 5 years old and left with their negligent alcoholic white father. After years of drug abuse and criminal activity, Thistle turned his life around. He earned a university degree and is now working on his Ph.D. Jesse Thistle is now an Assistant Professor in Metis Studies at York University in Toronto.
Every day the newspapers print stories of decades of abuse. The Kamloops genocide is just the latest. The plight of young Chanie Wenjack brought to our attention by the late Gord Downie of Tragically Hip is another. There are tens of thousands and the scars remain.
How has Canada allowed this to continue unresolved, throwing billions of dollars at COVID relief while Indigenous communities do not have clean drinking water, adequate accommodation or affordable, healthy food? Five Little Indians should be required reading in every high school curriculum. When you read it, you’ll never forget it.
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