Cdn Aboriginal Lit. for middle years makes Residential School issue accessible

In preparation for a Middle Years Aboriginal Literature meeting, I read My Name is SEEPEETZA by Shirley Sterling.

Seepeetza is an aboriginal child separated from her stable, successful, and loving family at age 12 to attend residential school. In that joyless and sterile environment, she is exposed to ridicule and abuse. She chronicles a year of her experiences in a journal.

This story is particularly poignant because the voice articulates a child's experience in simple, mater-of-fact language. Written as a diary, Seepeetza is forthright in her descriptions of school, and ebullient when sharing her home life. The contrast between her open, fully engaged, participation in chores at home stands in stark contrast against the joyless routines of school life from which she is psychologically withdrawn.

Our challenge is to find ways to use Aboriginal literature in our program, to give prominence to the voice of Aboriginal experience. Despite the challenging content this book is accessible and appropriate for midde years students.

Others in my group read Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. While both of these books focus on elements of the residential school experience, neither goes into graphic detail making this a safe first-step for introducing this topic to younger students.

We suggest a simple read-through having students make personal connections with the characters and situation. Afterward, students can examine the larger picture more closely: the deeper scars, survivor testimony, loss of language, and the abuses. Then, equipped with that understanding, students can revisit the books to recognize the deeper meaning and the hints to the greater story.

These books are not aggressive in-you-face condemnations. Rather, they lay out the experience in readily accessible language and situations that any student can appreciate. From that point they have a context for appreciating the complexity and far-reaching, long-lasting implications of residential schools.





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