In ECCU 400, we are tasked with writing six blog posts about what we have learned in the class and how we can use these learnings in our future classrooms. We have been provided with blog prompts that will help us gather our thoughts on some of the issues discussed in class to get us thinking deeper about a specific issues. One of the blog prompts requires us to find a children’s book that is centered on Indigenous issues and that would be appropriate to use in a classroom. This prompt stuck out to me since I really enjoy reading and I know there are plenty of books that showcase issues faced by many Indigenous People in Canada.
The book that I chose to reflect upon is the book When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson and illustrated by Julie Flett. The author of this children’s book, David A. Robertson, is a member of the Norway House Cree Nation and lives in Winnipeg. The illustrator of this children’s book, Julie Flett, is a Cree-Metis author, illustrator, and artist who lives in Vancouver.
The short children’s book, When We Were Alone, was first published in 2016 as a response to the Calls to Action for reconciliation. This book focuses on a young girl helping her grandmother in the garden. While gardening, the young girl asks her grandmother about her colourful clothes, her long braided hair, why she speaks another language and why she spends so much time with her family. In response to the young girl’s questions, the grandmother discusses her time in residential school.
As an educator, I really liked this book. It is short and seemingly simple to read. Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to read the book myself as I cannot access a library due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but thankfully there are many YouTube videos online that will read the story for you. One of the videos that I liked the most was created by students and staff at Fairlawn Public School, which is in Brampton Ontario.
This book is geared towards children that are in kindergarten to grade three. This book is a simple way to introduce children to the injustices that many Indigenous children faced at residential schools. It is written in student friendly language that is easy to read and understand. There is a Call to Action to teach students from kindergarten all the way to grade twelve about the injustices that many Indigenous people faced at residential schools. This book can be used as a way to introduce children to some of the restrictions that Indigenous children faced at residential schools.
As a teacher, you can use this book to begin the discussion on the difficult issue of residential schools in Canada. Reading this book with your class can introduce children to some of the issues of residential schools and can encourage students to try to think about how the grandmother felt during her time at residential schools. Young children will likely pick up on the injustices that the grandmother faced and you can then ask the students to discuss how they would feel if they were in the grandmother’s shoes.
Many educators do not want to teach children that are in kindergarten about residential schools because they believe they are too young to learn about the injustice that the Indigenous children faced. However, I do not think children are too young to understand what is right and what is wrong in kindergarten. By the time many children enter into kindergarten, they already know what is right and what is wrong and what is fair and what is unfair.
This book, When We Were Alone, can be read to students of all ages to begin the discussion of the history of residential schools. It is in simple language that can be understood by most and I think that even high school students would understand the message that is being portrayed in the story. High school teachers can use this book as a light way to introduce residential schools and to ease students into some of the injustices that they will be hearing about later in the unit.
As educators, we cannot sugarcoat what happened in residential schools. We cannot forgot what happened in residential schools. Residential schools are part of Canada’s history and all students should learn about residential schools. Students can learn about the injustices in more detail when their maturity levels have begun to develop, but students can be easily introduced to some of the injustices of residential schools through stories at a younger age.
Overall, I think that When We Were Alone is an amazing short story that should be in every K-12 classroom. It is written and illustrated by Indigenous Canadians who are tackling the uncomfortable story of residential schools and taking steps towards reconciliation. As educators we cannot shy away from teaching students about residential schools. Residential schools are part of our history and they should be discussed in classrooms to ensure that no injustice like them will ever occur again.
Thank you for reading my blog post!