Shi-shi-etko -- Book Review and Native Residential Schools

Disclosure: Groundwood Books gave me a copy of this book free of charge for this review. All opinions in my review are my own and I did not receive any other compensation.  As in all my reviews I am providing links for your ease, but receive no compensation.

Imagine being a young girl and being forced to go away from your home and family to go to a boarding school. You have never left your neighborhood, but if you do not go your parents will be arrested. At the school they will not let you keep your name, religion or language. They will try to take away everything about your culture in your life. This is how life was for many Native Americans from around 1876 until the 1990's. Shi-shi-etko by Nicola I. Campbell and illustrated by Kim LaFave tells such a story about a young Native American girl named Shi-shi-etko.

 This beautiful book describes the days up to Shi-shi-etko having to leave for school including what she does and how she is feeling. Each morning and night she counted how many days she had left to be at home. Her family tried their best to say goodbye to her and to instill their lifestyle and culture in her. 

 The native culture raised children as a community. So her extended family came to say goodbye. Shi-shi-etko had many thoughts the last few nights as she lay safely under her patchwork quilt that Yayah (her grandmother) made her. Each day she tried to remember her surroundings and keep it in her heart. Her grandmother gave her a memory bag and Shi-shi-etko gathered things to remember in it and then hid it by the old oak tree. She couldn't even take her memory bag with her since it would be taken away. 
St. Paul's Indian Industrial School, Middlechurch, Manitoba 1901 
See page for author [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As I read this book I remember leaving for college. I took so many things from home including a quilt made by my mother for my dorm room and many pictures and comforts of home. Now this young girl--much younger than college age--had to leave everything she knew and could not take it with her. At these schools often the students' hair was cut. Their names were changed to be more European/Canadian/American. They were given different clothes and were kept inside much more. They were even taught a new religion. The purpose of these native schools in both the United States and Canada was to assimilate them into the dominant culture. (This book takes place in Canada.) They were removed from their families and homes to keep their culture from pulling them back. 

My first experience with this type of school was on a vacation to Phoenix, Arizona. At the Heard Museum there is an exhibit on the boarding school experience for Native Americans. I insisted Steve and I visit it.  It broke my heart to hear how awful these schools were for the children who attended them. And it broke my heart even more that the government and white people felt it necessary to assimilate these people whose culture in many ways was superior to what they were being assimilated to. 

While at these schools many Native Americans were abused, mistreated and died. In the Canadian Indian Schools it is said around 150,000 children passed through them and at least 6,000 died there. (Source)  Canada recognized the damage inflicted on these people and in May 2006, established a $2 billion compensation package for the approximately 86,000 people who were forced to attend these schools.  (Source) The Canadian government has formally apologized in 2008 and so has the Vatican. 

I hope our society has learned as a whole not to repeat this mistake again and I pray that all affected by this assimilation process may heal and find happiness and peace in their lives. 

For more Native American  posts check out: