Books that changed me

I have been hungry to learn more about the residential school experiences of First Nations people in Canada.

After last spring’s very impactful St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School Commemoration Project, I have been hungry to learn more about the residential school experiences of First Nations people in Canada, and my recent reading has reflected this.

Over the past few months, I have read Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese and Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden.

Wagamese’s novel, set in the 1960s, follows the life of Saul Indian Horse, an Ojibway boy from Northwestern Ontario, whose life takes him from a home where his parents were residential school survivors to residential school itself.

A passion for hockey gives Saul a measure of respite from the trauma associated with his residential school experiences, but this respite is always short lived.

Three Day Road tells the story of Xavier and Elijah, two Cree friends who enlist in the Canadian army during the First World War, and how a horrible war affects each of them in very different ways.

I was fortunate to hear Joseph Boyden speak at the recent Aboriginal Education Conference in Vancouver.  For his presentation, Boyden read aloud from three of his works.

The lasting impression for me that day was the short story, The Legend of the Sugar Girl. Published in Boyden’s short story collection Born with a Tooth, this fable chronicles a young girl’s experiences in residential school and the legacy left by these experiences. Boyden’s heartfelt emotion, obvious in his oral reading, is just as evident when his words are on the page.

There are those in our communities who feel that our First Nations friends and neighbours should just “get over” their residential school experiences.

With all of my recent reading, I have a much better understanding as to why our expectations need to change.

Mark Thiessen,

Superintendent of Schools

School District 27