Gaawin Gindaaswin Ndaawsii / I Am Not A Number

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Member Reviews

Eight-year-old Irene Couchie can’t understand why she has to leave her family and travel to a residential school far from home. Her loving parents try to explain that the law requires that she and her siblings receive an education. She and two of her brothers get taken by the Indian agent and travel to a boarding school run by nuns.

The siblings get separated, and Irene discovers that no one at the school will call her by her name. They assign her a number. The nuns impose rule after rule on Irene. She struggles to understand their cruelty and learn how to not get punished so that she can make it through the school year and return to her family.

Readers will cheer for Irene as she and her family devise a plan to change their situation. They will also come to understand the grim reality of Indian boarding schools that felt they had a mandate to ‘Kill the Indian to save the man.’

Many people in the United States have no idea that the U.S. Government forced Native American children to leave home and attend boarding schools. The boarding schools often mistreated the children in an attempt to strip them of their language and culture. 

I Am Not a Number, the true story of the author’s grandmother, an Anishinaabe woman from Northern Ontario. The tells the story in both English and Nbisiing—a dialect of Anishnaabemwin—Irene’s story is told in the language of her home. A fitting tribute to a woman who suffered under the guise of acculturation.

Who Should Read this Book?

Everyone. Unless we understand the shameful practices of the past, we won’t understand the suffering in the present. The more we know, the more we can advocate for and ally ourselves to marginalized voices.
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The cover says it all: A dismayed Native American child — or First Nations child, as they’re called in Canada — submits to having her hair cut in what’s clearly a highly institutionalized setting.

Author Jenny Kay Dupuis tells the story of her own grandmother: 8-year-old Irene Couchie in 1928 was forced from her Nipissing family into a cruel nun-run residential school in Ontario that attempted to “civilize” Indian children by denying them names (giving them numbers instead!), stripping them of their Ojibway language, and trying to turn them into “real” Canadians. Irene was one of 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children forced into horror-filled residential schools, where they were worked hard, barely fed and poorly educated. Children as young as 4 were shipped far from home for more than a century to schools run by different religious denominations.

When Irene is renamed 759, she silently vows: “I am not a number. I am Irene Couchie, daughter of Ernest and Mary Ann Couchie. I will never forget who I am.”

Irene and her two brothers were lucky enough to be saved after a year, but most others spent years in institutions where burning a child was considered appropriate punishment.

Beautiful prose — in both English and Nipissing — from Dupuis and her co-author Kathy Kacer accompany austere illustrations from Gillian Newland to create a book that’s eye-opening enough for adults, while not overwhelming its target audience of first- through third-graders. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I received this book from NetGalley and Second Story Press in exchange for an honest review.
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"I Am Not A Number" is a story of an eight year old Irene who was sent to a residential school against her parents will or say. This part of Native American history is heartbreaking for families had been forced to send their children to residential schools where they were subjected to hard labor and mistreatment. This wonderful story is not only about the darkness of residential schools but also about the light of family love and bravery of a father who was ready to risk his own life to protect his children. My students absolutely loved the ending since this is not the first book about residential schools that we read. In the past, they always asked why didn't people resist, and in "I Am Not A Number" they have an example of a family who resisted. Great read.
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This book was well written and the characters are described well. The characters are described well.  It makes me upset that the people were cruel to these children. Overall this is a good book and I would recommend it.
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The last residential school for Native American Indian children in the United States was closed in 1973. The last residential school for First Nation Canadians closed in 1996. These schools were specifically designed to force children, native to their countries, to assimilate to the cultural norms of white people. The methods used to force this assimilation included physical and sexual abuse, changing the children’s names (in some cases to numbers), forbidding the use of their native languages, cutting their hair, and changing the way that they dressed. Not to mention that these children were forcibly removed from their families. Residential schools are not only a part of North America’s history, they are a part of our recent history. The effects are still felt in communities today.

I was recently given the opportunity, by NetGalley and Second Story Press, to read an Advance Reader Copy of I Am Not a Number written by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer and illustrated by Gillian Newland. This is the story of Dupuis’ grandmother, Irene Couchie Dupuis, who was taken from her family in Ontario and placed in a residential school in 1928. Irene is a member of the Nipissing First Nation community and this book is written in both English and Nbisiing (the dialect of her community). The Nbisiing text is placed in larger font above the English, which is a powerful shift in display from what many of us are used to seeing.

On the first page of this book, the Indian agent speaks the words, “I am here for the children.” This has sent shivers through me every time that I have read the text and I imagine that it always will. What could be more terrifying to a parent or to a child? When Irene arrived at the residential school, she is told that she will now be called 759. The nuns within the school attempted to erase every part of her culture and that included evidence of her humanity such as her name.

Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer use language throughout the book to keep this same feeling of tension flowing for readers. While this is a picture book, it is very intense, and might be best read with children in the upper elementary grades or above. Dupuis and Kacer do not shy away from documenting some of the abuses that occurred during Irene's time at the residential school. The illustrations, by Gillian Newland, also mirror the fear of the children within the school. The white adults within the book all appear as though the reader is looking up at towering and intimidating figures.

Even surrounded by all of this anger and hatred, Irene stays strong. Her story is one of triumph, but that was not the case for all of the children taken to these schools. Nothing can make up for what happened to these families, but talking about it with the next generation could prevent it from happening again.
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When this young protagonist is stolen from her home and taken to a residential school there isn’t even a slight bright spot. There are no good nuns, no heroes, no one to make life bright. She survives on her own strength, and the words of her mother. 

This book is important. It is sad, but sad in that true to life way that we need to hear. It is one of the missing stories, the tales white patriarchy has silenced. And it is time it is heard.
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I am at a loss of words at how amazing this picture book. The more I learn about the Indigenous populations, the more I am heartbroken and fascinated about their pain and their ability to endure after it all. The beautiful artwork was a definite plus. It was both captivating and breathtaking. We need more books like this so all ages can learn more about indigenous populations.
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Jenny Kay Dupuis writes in the voice of her grandmother as a child, telling how (in 1928) little Irene, aged eight, and her two young brothers were taken from their home on the Nipissing First Nation Reserve, just west of North Bay, Ontario. Their father was threatened with jail if he didn’t hand the children over to the Indian agent. Resigned and grieved, he and the children’s mother watched as the government representative drove off with them. It would have been a long ride west (along what is now known as highway 17) to Spanish, Ontario where the imposing Catholic-run residential school stood. There Irene would be separated from her brothers. She’d be assigned a number (Indian kids were deprived of names at the school), ordered to “scrub the brown off”, and her beautiful hair would be cut (a ritual the Anishinaabe perform when grieving a loved one, and one which Irene saw as peculiarly fitting  in this terrible place, given the losses she was experiencing). Irene’s essential kindness—her sharing a biscuit with another child at breakfast, a transaction which involved the use of Nippissing words (the “devil’s language”, according to the worst of the nuns)—was punished. Sister Mary made the little girl hold a bedpan full of hot coals. The child’s hands were badly burned.

Irene’s story has a happier ending than many other survivor accounts of residential schools. She and her siblings were sent home for the summer. Slowly, the stories of the deprivation and abuse they endured at the Indian School leaked out to their parents. Irene’s father resolved and succeeded in heroically hiding the children when the Indian agent returned for them in the fall. He told the government man he didn’t care about his threats. He refused to send the kids back.

An afterword notes that in the course of a century approximately 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children were removed from their families and taken to residential schools, places of horror and mistreatment. Jenny Kay Dupuis’s account, accompanied by spare, subdued paintings, is a very accessible one. It gives a good idea of the abuse and the sadness without overwhelming young readers with too many terrible details. Presenting Irene’s story in a two-language (Nipissing and English) text is a powerful statement. The language (like the Nipissing people from which it comes) has endured.

Recommended for children ages 8-12, this is another book I’d love to see on the Ontario Library Association’s Silver Birch Express Readers’ Choice Awards list this fall.
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What a moving book and a much need story to share. I think it was done beautifully and genuinely appreciate the work that went into the dictation, translation, and the illustrations. Although it is a painful reality to believe, it is an important story to be passed down to our children so that these mistakes are not repeated. The atrocities that occurred behind these school walls are unspeakable. I thank the community who took the time to share their history and these heroic accounts with the rest of the world. It is about time people stopped trying to hide what occurred only a few decades ago.
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What a remarkable book. The illustrations are beautiful and the story is compelling. I truly had no idea that this is the history of how the First Nations/Inuit/Metis of Canada were treated in the not so-distant past. And to think, the last of these "residential schools" run by so-called Christian Churches just closed at the end of the 20th Century is striking. Here in the USA, I think our schooling on the countries surrounding us is quite limited unfortunately. Other countries seem to have a better understanding of the history or politics of the USA than USA citizens have for any other country, then take a smaller fraction of that vast country that is Canada (we think Toronto/Quebec,etc) and most of us know little at all.
This is an important book for the people that it represents. It is also an important book for all those facing similar situations, separation from family due to refugee status or immigration issues or even the criminal justice system. Anytime children are in a family that they are happy and well-cared for in and then taken from against their will is a tragedy. We are seeing many examples of this scenario around the world and it is scary for those children and sad for the families. We must do better.
Highly recommend.
#GaawinNiinNdooGindaaswisiiIAmNotANumber #NetGalley #SecondStoryPress
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This is the powerful story of children forcibly removed from their home and sent to a residential school. It was here that the children were told that they would now be referred to by number, instead of name. This is one of many inhumane abuses that they are subjected to in an attempt to rid them of their culture and identity. This is a book that should be read by all, so that these true events are not forgotten and these horrors are not repeated.
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What an amazing book, based on such strong people. This books story and how it was written is so important, just amazing.
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“We don’t use names here. All students are known by numbers.”⁣
⁣
Based on the true story of author Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis grandmother, Irene Couchie Dupuis.⁣ I had the opportunity to read this to my niece and I boohoo cried. ⁣
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I am Not a Number is not an easy read,but it’s a part of history. In 1928, Dupuis's grandmother, Irene Couchie Dupuis, was taken to a residential school in Canada. These were schools designed to "civilize"  and convert Native children.⁣
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When Irene arrives at the school and tells the nun her name, she's told "We don't use names here. All students are known by numbers. You are 759.”⁣
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Not only did she lose her name, she and all the other girls had their hair cut off and were punished for using their native language,Ojibwe.⁣
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Attending the school for one year Irene and her brothers go home for the summer. When the agent shows up in the fall, Irene's father challenges them and vows that his  children will never be taken away again.⁣
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Although this is a picture book I highly recommend this for ages 7 and up. ⁣ Beautiful illustrations and the content is a must read. ⁣

Thank you Netgalley & Second Story Press for gifting me this copy in exchange for an honest review.
⁣
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I think the author did a wonderful job telling this heartbreaking truth.
She relayed the terrible circumstances these children faced while still making it easy enough to be shared with & digested by children.
There are more details about the residential schools in the back of the book to further educate yourself and your tiny humans.
Thank you NetGalley and Second Story Press for my DRC.
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I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.   Thank you NetGalley.

This book will NOT be an easy book to read... only because of the topic.. but it is a book that should be read/shared in every single school.     The illustrations were beautiful but heartbreaking, as was the text.    

We will be rereading this, because the story is amazing...
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Books like this don't exactly make one proud to be Canadian. The dehumanizing measures that were taken against innocent children are difficult to read about.

However, books like this are important. This one tells the story of Irene Couchie (grandmother of one of the authors) and her year spent in a residential school where she was stripped of her name (the children were known only by numbers), her hair, and her language. The children were half starved, and regularly abused as a form of discipline (if you can call a bedpan full of hot coals on the forearms a legitimate form of discipline). When the children were allowed to return home for the summer, their parents found out what had really been going on, and they vowed not to send Irene and her brothers back there. They devised a plan to hide them instead.

It's incredible to think that Irene's story happened less than 100 years ago. How could anyone have ever thought it was okay to treat other human beings so terribly? These were children, who had committed no crime other than being born into an Indigenous culture, and yet they were punished in almost unthinkable ways.

This book features a lot of text, but half of it is in the Nbisiing language, so the story itself isn't that long. In some ways, that's good, because I don't know if many more horrors could be included before this book was no longer suitable for children. The illustrations are nice, and show a loving family getting caught up in unfair laws driven by arrogance and bigotry. I enjoyed reading the notes at the end, too, which talk a little bit more about Irene's life, the residential school system in general, and the more recent efforts made to start to right the wrongs of the past. A few photographs are also included in this section.

Overall, this is a strong biographical picture book. I can't really say that I enjoyed it, because this subject matter isn't really something anyone should enjoy reading about. It is, however, an interesting story and one that would be a good teaching tool in elementary schools to help introduce kids to this part of history.
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A powerful story about Irene Couchie and her brothers who were taken from their home and their family to a residential school. I Am Not A Number shows us a tiny glimpse of what one of the 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children who over a staggering 100 years endured. Their story shows how traumatic, heartbreaking and dangerous these schools were. It also shows the strength and love of her family. 

This absolutely heartbreaking and neglected part of Canadian history is finally being recognized as the horrible act that it was. This book was beautifully illustrated and written. I loved that it was written in English as well as Nbisiing.
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*I received an e-arc of this title from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Heartbreaking. The story itself is short and simple, making it easy accessible to younger readers but there’s a lot of heavy content to unpack in this story of the author’s grandmother and her experience with a residential school. I’m a sucker for extra info at the end of the book and Dupuis did not disappoint: she shared some more information on her grandmother and the school, including pictures. This is a good introduction to residential schools and the treatment of Indigenous people for children who may not know anything about it yet. 

On a side note, I have read a few books now that include both the native language and English text and I would love to hear these books in the native language. I don’t know if it is a possibility for the future but if each book had a QR code I could scan to hear the book read by the author, I think that would be lovely.
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#GaawinNinNdooGindaaswisiiIAmNotANumber #NetGalley 

This was a sad tale unfortunately familiar, to some extent, to indigenous cultures wherever colonisation happened.
This tells the tale of Irene Couchie who spent a year in a residential school. She was punished if she spoke in her native language and didn't hear it for the entire year. Terrified she would forget who she was, she begged her father to not make her and her brothers go back after summer holidays.
This is a book that should be required reading for school children and adults.
It opens the eyes to the atrocities children suffered for not real reason other than religious types thinking they knew better.
And if it isn't broken, it doesn't need fixing. Sadly too many native peoples have lost a lot of their heritage because of this.
The illustrations were lovely and really conveyed the words of the author. Capturing the experiences of Irene and clearly showing the emotional turmoil she went through.
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"We don't use names here. All students are known by numbers."

This book made me want to cry right from the start. I had heard about residential schools before but did not really know anything about them. Gaawin Gindaaswin Ndaawsii / I Am Not A Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer tells the story of a First Nations girl that was taken away from her family along with two of her brothers and forced to go to a residential school for a year. This book tells the story of her awful experiences during that year and how reuniting with her family gave them a new resolve to stand up for themselves. This is a very heartbreaking story that will lead to difficult but important conversations with your children. 

I love the fact that the whole book was written in her language first and then translated for us to understand. As an immigrant, I find it very important to know where you come from, your language and your culture so I am glad this book is available to show the importance of every language, not just the "popular" ones. 

There is one thing I wish this book included though. Due to it being such a difficult subject, many people may not know how to discuss this with their children so they may be discouraged from buying it and reading it to them. It would be helpful to have some guided questions at the end to help facilitate a meaningful discussion.
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