Cover Image: Gaawin Gindaaswin Ndaawsii / I Am Not A Number

Gaawin Gindaaswin Ndaawsii / I Am Not A Number

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Member Reviews

"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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Disclaimer: I received a digital version of this book via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.  The book, however, had been on my tbr shelf as the English only edition has been out since 2016.  Additionally, I cannot speak to the accuracy of the translation into Nishnaabemwin (Ojibwe) Nbisiing dialect.
	Shortly before I got approved for this galley, The Final Report of National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released in Canada.  It provoked various reactions including, predictably, people getting upset about the use of the word genocide.  Yet, when you look at the history of colonialization in both Canada and America, you reach the conclusion what other world can be used.  It wasn’t just simply killing in terms of a warfare of taking land but also the attempted (sometimes wholly or partly successful) destruction of culture.
	This is what Dupuis and Kacer’s book illustrates.  The story is based on the real life of Dupuis’s grandmother Irene, who along with two of her brothers, was forcibly taken to a residential school where her native language, Ojibway, and culture.  And if you are thinking that doesn’t sound pleasant, it’s not.
	If you have read anything about the Residential schools, even in passing than you know that to say they were hotbeds of abuse is an understatement.  This a children’s book, and so Irene’s experiences, while not sugar coated, are not as graphic as they would have been in a young adult novel.  It is important to note that the writing and art make it clear that while the physical abuse was painful, also painful, perhaps more so, was the attack on culture and belief.  This is particularly true of where Irene is forced to have her hair cut.
	The book also speaks to the strength of family ties, not only between parents and children but between the children themselves.  While not all the nuns are sadistic, even the nice one’s form part of the power structure that is determined to “transform” First Nations children into Western (white) children.  Such people might not be physically abusive but they can be harmful in a different way, and the book does show this.
	There is an afterword and historical notes at the end.  Dupuis tells the reader more about her family and grandmother.  There is also information about the Residential schools.  However, there is not a further reading list, and I wonder if this because there are so few children’s books about the subject or if it is simply an oversight.
	The layout of this edition includes the Nishnaabenwin (Ojibwe) Nbisiing dialect version first, followed by the English version.  This is true from the title, to story, to afterword.  This layout is wonderful.  The only thing I might add, might be a pronunciation guide.  According to the translation note at the beginning of the book, the translation is important not only because it is the language that Irene was forbidden to and punished for speaking at the school, but also because it is also to create space for Indigenous speakers in children’s literature as well adding to community literature.  This reasoning would speak to not having a pronunciation guide (why would Indigenous Speakers need it) but considering the dual language of the book, it could easily be used in a majority non-Indigenous class, in which case the guide would be helpful.
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A very good and eye-opening book.  One of the authors is here retelling her grandmother's own history, where she was packed off from her reservation to a horrid religious school, where she was given an equally horrid bowl-cut and told never to use her own tongue, "the devil's language," ever again.  Quips about the haircuts on offer besides, the whole thing is clearly a blot on the history of Canada, as the postscript reveals – the Church apologised only in the mid-1980s (and then continued to keep one school open until the mid-1990s).  This book is three years old in its original form, but has now been translated to English and presented as a bilingual volume.  I think there was a bit of shunting about to get both texts and the illustrations onto the pages, for some of the imagery is quite distant from the text it portrays at times, but everything seems to work more than adequately.  You'll learn how horrid the nuns were (little surprise there, then), how naive the schools were in letting the kids home for the summer, and in fact how the haircut did matter to these girls, for being shorn when it was not as a mark of mourning was alien to them.  All told, then, a success – and a strong four stars.
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This is the story of a girl, sent to residential schools, who remembered who she was, and was able to keep her language, unlike many other First Nation, Metis and Inuit children.

This book is the retelling of the author's grandmother's story of what life in the residential schools was like. It is important that these stories be told, so that they will not happen again. This book is now available in, Nbisiing, the very language that the residential schools tried to wipe off the face of the children, removing them from their own community. The translators, fact, knew the girl in the story, so it held special meaning to translate this story.

It is a sad, deep story. The pictures are not bright and happy, as this is not a happy story.  

Highly recommend this book for children and adults to learn about what happened.

Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for an honest review.
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