I Am Not A Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland

51pjv54bwrl-_sx384_bo1204203200_I Am Not A Number

By Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer

Illustrated by Gillian Newland

 

For more than a century, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were taken from their families to live at Residential Boarding schools in Canada. They were not allowed to speak their tribal language or practice their honored traditions. They were often harshly punished for any infraction; they were poorly fed, and many children died from infectious diseases. Their parents were powerless to protect them because the government believed Indigenous people needed to be “saved” from their “inferior” cultures. The last residential school did not close until 1996.

 

Dupuis tells the true story of her Anishinaabe grandmother, Irene Couchie Dupuis’ experience at one of these schools. In 1928 when Irene was eight, an Indian agent came to their home on the Nipissing Reserve Number 10 in Northern Ontario. Although her father, Ernest, was chief of the community, he couldn’t stop the agent from taking Irene and two sons, Ephraim and George. Their mother, Mary Ann, cautioned the children to care for each other and never forget their home, their traditions, and most importantly who they are.

 

Immediately after arriving at the school, boys and girls were separated, leaving Irene alone for the first time in her life. The nuns in charge were mean-spirited and strict: numbers replaced all of the children’s names. Irene became 759. Their long hair was cut. Swift punishments were meted out for any infraction, especially speaking their own languages. The Couchie children endured this school for a year then were sent home for the summer where the family worked out a plan to keep them altogether.

 

Dupuis and Kacer’s sensitive text lends a comforting tone to this harsh reality and is seamlessly balance by Newland’s expressive and exquisite illustrations.

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