September 30th is Orange Shirt Day and the first National Day of remembrance: a day to acknowledge and honour the victims of the Canadian residential school system. Leading up to this day, it is important to begin the conversations around Truth and Reconciliation, no matter what grade you teach. As with many classroom conversations, picture books provide an access point into the discussions.
Here is a short video by CBC Kids News to explain “indigenous” that might be helpful to support the conversation. https://youtu.be/CISeEFTsgDA
While not all the books on residential schools may be age appropriate for younger students, Nicola Campbell’s book Shi-Shi-Etko is a gentle way to begin the conversation. It is a beautifully told and illustrated story about the four days before a young Indigenous girl must leave her family and go to residential school. Her mother, father and grandmother, each in turn, share valuable teachings that they want her to remember, while Shi-shi-etko carefully gathers her memories to remind her of home.
Shi-Shi-Etko – Nicola Campbell
• Write the word “home” on the board. Invite students to think about the word – ask them what connection, feeling, and visual image do they think of when they see this word. Invite students to share with a partner or share out with the class.
• Ask the students if they have ever been away from home? Discuss going away from home with your family vs. going away by yourself.
• Introduce the book Shi-Shi-etko by Nicola Campbell. Tell the students it is a book about an Indigenous girl who is leaving her home to go away to school. But she is young and she doesn’t want to go and she is going without her family. Ask the students what that might be like? What feelings would she be having?
NOTE: At this point, you may want to introduce the subject of residential schools. This would depend on your grade level. If so, explain that many indigenous children were sent away to school. In the schools, they were given English names, their hair was cut short, and they were not allowed to speak their own language or talk about their culture. Discuss what that might have been like.
• Explain that before Shi-Shi-Etko goes to school, she is trying to collect memories of her home. Her mom, grandmother, and father are telling her to remember her home, her land, laughter, dancing when she is away at school.
• Invite the students to listen carefully to the way the author uses the senses to help us get a feeling about the girl’s home and what are some of the memories she collects.
• Read the story.
• Discuss some of the “memories” she was keeping. Explain that a memory is a connection she makes between an object and something from home.
• Draw a large “bag” on a shared screen or chart paper. As students respond, draw and label the items inside the bag: fireweed, paintbrush(flower), sprig, leaf, columbine, sage, pinecone. (If possible, show images of these plants on your ipad or smart board)
• Pass out “Memory Bag” paper. Invite students to draw Shi-Shi-Etko’s memories inside the bag. (see sample below)
Download the Memory Bag Template HERE
Lesson – Part 2
NOTE: You will need to prepare for this lesson by gathering objects from your home that you would put into your memory bag – to help you remember home. If possible, hide them inside a paper or drawstring bag.
• Review story of Shi-Shi-Etko. Remind students that in order to remember her home, her land, her family, Shi-shi-Etko collected “memories” for her memory bag.
• Ask the students to imagine having their own memory bag to store things to help them remember their home.
• Explain that you have collected some items from your home that you have strong connections to. They help you remember your home. (If possible, bring real objects from home for this lesson) Take each item out of the bag and explain why you chose it and what it reminds you of.
sprig of lavender – my grannie’s favorite flower and the smell reminds me of her
knitting needle – reminds me of my mom because she loved to knit
maple leaf – reminds me of the maple tree in my front yard which was a wedding gift (reminds me of my husband)
piece of fur – from my dog to remind me of her
heart shaped pebble – reminds me of my sons
• Have students talk with a partner about some of the things they might want to put into their memory bag. Discuss how a toy may be something fun to play with but may not help them remember their home.
• Pass out the blank memory bag (same as part 1) Invite students to draw and label things inside their Memory Bag.
• On the back, they can list their items and why it is special to them.
Download the Memory Bag Template HERE
End the lesson
• Ask the students to compare their memory bags with Shi-Shi-Etko’s. What do you notice? All of Shi-Shi-Etko’s memories are connected to the land. Explain to students that Indigenous people believe that the land connects us all.
Other books to support Orange Shirt Day:
The Orange Shirt Story – Phyllis Webstad
The original book that started the Orange Shirt Day movement. Geared for older students. Watch the author, Phyllis Webstad, talk about the book. (As always, please preview the video before sharing with your students) https://youtu.be/E3vUqr01kAk
Phyllis’s Orange Shirt – Phyllis Webstad
An adaptation of The Orange Shirt Story for younger students.
The Train – Jodie Calleghan
The Secret Path – Gordon Downie
Tragically Hip front man, the late Gordon Downie collaborated with illustrator Jeff Lemire to create this graphic novel picture book that tells the true story of Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, a twelve-year-old boy who died trying to walk home after fleeing from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School. Gordon Downie wrote 10 powerful songs to go along with the book. Recommended for older students.
When We Were Alone – David A. Robertson
I am Not A Number – Jenny K. Dupuis
When I Was Eight – Christy Jordan-Fenton
I Lost My Talk – Rita Joe
I’m Finding My Talk – Rebecca Thomas
Speaking Our Truth – A Journey of Reconciliation – Monique Gray Smith
You Hold Me Up – Monique Grey Smith
When I was a student in elementary school in the early 70’s, I had never heard of residential schools. None of my teachers mentioned it. In my early years of teaching, I didn’t talk to my students about residential schools because it was not in our curriculum, and no teacher mentioned it. Hard to admit that, but it’s true. Thank you to all of you for mentioning, acknowledging, and honoring this important truth. Every child does matter.