They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School by Bev Sellars.
Bev Sellars is a Canadian writer who published this book as a memoir of her childhood experiences as a student at a church-run residential school called St. Joseph’s Residential School in Williams Lake, British Columbia. This memoir tells the story of how these institutions aimed to “civilize” Native students through Christian teachings, forced separation from family, language, and culture, and strict discipline. As Sellars talks about her time at the school, one can understand the hardships of the children and the families of the children that were forced into this school system. Sellars details life after the residential school and how she and her family suffered from severe depression and even suicidal thoughts.
I think this would be great to use in a grade 10 Canadian history course. I would not read the book in its entirety with my class; instead I would select meaningful, relevant, and significant passages from the book to complement the curriculum. In this grade, students learn all about Canada’s past including the treatment and mistreatment of Aboriginals. Using passages will give the students a better understanding of the experiences faced by these children. I think this is a great learning tool as students get a firsthand account of the measures taken to assimilate Aboriginals in Western culture. This will provide a perspective other than the textbook account which will deepen student understanding and provide meaning and context to the curriculum content.
Katerina Maragos Bringing
The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir retells the residential school experience of a retired fisherman and trapper, Joseph Auguste Merasty. Residential schools have been an upsetting but important part of Canadian history. They were vehicles for the aggressive assimilation policy of the Canadian government, greatly affecting the lives of the First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples of Canada. Merasty’s story recounts how the Church-run school he attended attempted to shape him and at the same time physically and sexually abused him. The story is unique in that Merasty shares with his readers how his residential school experience has affected his adult life. Merasty finds it difficult to maintain relationships with the people he loves because of his alcoholism and his tendency to become emotionally aloof as a result of the abuse he experienced in residential schools.
In my view a page or two in a textbook is not enough for students to really understand the impact of residential schools. I am sure that students will be shocked to hear that the last residential school closed in 1996 and that they continue to affect the Indigenous population negatively even today because of intergenerational trauma. By including this book in the grade 10 Canadian history curriculum, we can turn two pages into a unit and really dive deeper into the issues that are affecting members of our society today.
A whole-class book study (broken down into sections) would provide lessons that study Canadian residential school policy and its effects. It could perhaps be done as part of a week-long unit on these issues in which this book is worked into each class.
Editor’s Note: Augie Merasty died in February, 2017 at age 87. His book was a Canada-wide bestseller.