I recently read “Five Little Indians” by Michelle Good, which has won several awards including the Canada Council for the Arts Governor General’s Literary Award, the 2021 Amazon Canada First Novel Award, the Writer’s Trust of Canada Fiction Prize, and the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Good is a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation, and several of her family members endured the residential school system.
After the first discovery of bodies at residential schools earlier this year, many Canadians expressed grief and shock at the tragic abuses that happened there. Many of us have learned an incomplete history of Canada, and now wish to learn more about the residential school system, those who survived, and how to move forward with reparations and healing.
While “Five Little Indians” is fictional, the book’s interweaving narratives are based on real stories. Readers hear from five main characters, over several periods of their lives: before school, experiencing residential school as a small child growing into a teenager, and being dismissed from school and released in Vancouver without sufficient money or survival skills. The ongoing effects of systemic racism and a cruel upbringing help us understand that these stories are much more than history.
The path forward requires healing, but how can we help and support our Indigenous sisters and brothers? One of the key messages this year in my networks has been that the first step is to listen. Non-Indigenous people need to really hear Indigenous people’s stories and build a better understanding so that action can follow. Books are one medium for learning more.
I found Good’s book especially moving and accessible. It captured me from the first page, and I read it in a weekend. If you would like to develop a deeper understanding of residential school survivors’ lives, I would highly recommend it for your “to read” list.
Five Little Indians is a novel by Michelle Good. (HarperCollins Canada, photo by Candice Camille)