Cover Image: My Name Is Seepeetza

My Name Is Seepeetza

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I am sorry but I realized I have already read this book! I looked at my Goodreads acct and noticed it there. I did want to come here and say though that I love the bright vibrant cover

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This book broke my heart. Based on her own experiences at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, this is a reprint of a book geared toward younger readers, so some of the trauma is alluded to, and may go over younger heads, but as an adult, I got it.

It's a heartbreaking book, but I think everyone should read it to have an understanding of the damage done to so many Native children and their families.

Thank you Netgalley and House of Anansi Press Inc., Groundwood Books for the ARC!

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Although not quite what I expected, a very interesting and insightful look at native culture through the eyes of a teen.

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As a child, I read a book about a young Native American girl who had the opportunity to go away to a boarding school where she learned to speak English and learned new ways - she loved school and hoped to become a teacher. As an adult, I learned the truth behind the residential schools that stripped indigenous children of their families, forcing them to no longer speak their languages, and abusing them.

My Name Is Seepeetza is a reprint of Shirley Sterling's story about her own experience attending a residential school as a young native child. The book is written to be accessible by middle grade readers - as you read, some of the trauma from being forced to go to school away from your family and assimilate to a culture that isn't your own (and where the adults are often abusive) is clear but some is also hidden and may not be noticed by young readers. However, the experience of growing up, the injustice of being forced to attend a school you hate, the dichotomy of school and home life is clear. The book is accessible to younger readers and introduces them to a part of our history that was denied for so long. I absolutely will be reading this book my own child and I recommend it to other young readers.

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A student recently asked me in class, “Why are there reprints of books? Why do they get reprinted?” Among the reasons I gave them was this one: “Sometimes new information emerges and something important needs to be added. Or, sometimes, the content of the book becomes relevant again, given certain events or things that are happening right now.” I added, “Remember, history is less about the past, than it is a reflection of our present moment or our desire for what we want our future to look like.”

Sterling’s My Name is Seepeetza, the 30th anniversary edition epitomizes this reason. The recent discovery of several hundred bodies of indigenous children buried and hidden at several residential schools across Canada — Fort Pelly, St Phillip, St John, just to name three — is a heavy reminder that the state sanctioned annihilation of Canada’s indigenous culture and peoples over the past four centuries is not a remnant of the past, but a living monster that still lives and looms over the lives of the 150,000 children and their countless descendants.

This is a living trauma, its horror and long reach remain unknown.

For this reason alone, I am considering using this book in my next iteration of a 100-level history course I teach to undergraduates for this reason.

Sterling’s accessible, authentic prose in the voice of a young girl only gives me more reason to assign it as a course reading. The length is perfect for a semester and the format in epistolary style as a diary allows me to use this in class, for small group work within the time constraints of a class session or for short individual activities.

The content though is the main appeal here. Sterling’s own experiences makes My Name is Seepeetza all the more powerful, opens an avenue for an educator to discuss this in more depth as a primary source, as a part of historical record, opens the door for historical discussions and framing it within a larger landscape of indigenous history, gendered and racial violence. My Name is Seepeetza hits on the major nerves: language weaponized, education as violence, eugenics, parenting as cultural intervention, skin color and its tormented relationship with race and ethnic autochthony. History.

A reprint is not merely a revival, it is a reflection and delivery of knowledge we need right now.

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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.
I hadn't heard of this book before but it sounded interesting. Life at residential schools is very different from my childhood at public schools. I like that this is written in diary form and is easy to read, especially for younger kids.

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an eARC!

Being native and having family members who were in residential schools I was immediately drawn to this novel. I want to hear from everyone who shares some piece of their experience in the schools. I want to know and understand and learn.

Even though it is a fictional format, I can see so much correlation with the testimonies of other survivors. That makes this feel factual despite it’s roots. Obviously Shirley being a survivor played a major role in this, because she had first hand experience. No one else could ever replicate those experiences by simply studying it.

What I also admire about this novel is that is digestible enough for younger readers. I think adults should still read this too because there is a lot to be gained from hearing from our elders/ancestors, but this frames it in a way that is relatable to middle schoolers and high schoolers. Even younger readers who are not native can find something in the pages to relate to because at the end of the day, these are the musings and detailings of a 12 year old. The part of the book where Seepeetza is dwelling on how she looks “plain” is near universal.

My only criticism, and it’s a loose one, is that it’s sometimes hard to follow the train of thought. I wonder if that is what the author was going for since it is supposed to be a 12 year old, but there were several times while reading where i had to go to the previous page to see if I missed something because it went from point A to Z out of nowhere.

Overall, this is a great introductory story into the reality of residential schools, and the very real impact it had on kids who were so innocent and unassuming in their reality. I think the afterword also ties it all together to fully explain that reality from the pages that were just read. I think this should actually be required reading in middle school across Canada and the United States.

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My Name is Seepeetza is a middle-grade story perfect for middle graders, young adults, or adults who want to hear the experiences of children in the "Indian Residential Schools" operated throughout North America in the last century. In this story, Shirley Sterling allows her character Seepeetza to tell her experiences through her own journal in which she records life both in the residential school and at home on her family's ranch in British Columbia.

Seepeetza has grown up on Joyaska Ranch in British Columbia with her father, a rancher and court interpreter, her mother, and her siblings. When she is six years old, everything changes. She is sent to the Kalamak Indian Residential School where indigenous children are relocated to be educated. Her older siblings are veterans of the school, but Seepeetza records her experience in her secret journal, a secret that has to be guarded since the nuns who operate the school forbid students from writing anything negative in their letters home to their families. In her entries, Seepeetza shares how frightened she was to trade her name for the white name, Martha, she goes by at school and have her hair cut in the standard all the students have, to have her own clothing locked away in storage and to wear the standard uniform.. She tells of poor meals, widespread hunger, severe punishments for bedwetting, misbehavior, or mistakes. She describes being bullied, living in fear and silence, and longing for the comfort, companionship, and love of her home.

Her descriptions ring authentic and credible because she also describes good experiences, like riding a horse at the school farm, learning Irish dances for competitions, and the camaraderie with her siblings and cousins when she could sneak in a conversation or hold their hands in a hallway.

As a contrast, she also records her Christmases and summer vacations back home on the ranch, and the rich tapestry of family, food, culture, and freedom that formed her character and gave her strength. Her family is not perfect, and she describes her father's drinking bouts, her mother's efforts to shield them from her kids by taking the children to her family, and conflicts with her siblings and cousins. But the steady love, freedom to explore and learn, and the cultural traditions passed down through her Yay-yah, aunts, and uncles show a life rich and complex.

The topic of residential schools is rarely explored and only surfaces when discoveries are made, like the burials recently uncovered at a Canadian residential school. Sterling's story is a tool for teaching this period of history, discussing its supposed rationales and flaws, and understanding the mistakes of the past to prevent them in the future. Most of all, Seepeetza herself is an example of the power of family, culture, and love to strengthen us in the face of horrific injustice.

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