March 17, 2014

Residential school - Margaret's story

Sorrowful, yet uplifting, Margaret's story is one every Canadian should read.

Fatty Legs: A True Story
by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Eight-year-old Olemaun longs to attend the outsiders' school so she can learn to read. Her father and sister, who know what the school is really like, try to dissuade her, but she insists. At the school, Olemaun's braids are cut off, her clothes taken away, and her name changed to Margaret. Then she's put to work cleaning floors and emptying waste buckets. But Margaret has a strong will, and finds a way to protest the cruel treatment. 

A Stranger At Home: A True Story
by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

After two years of school, Margaret eagerly waits to be reunited with her family. But she is unprepared for the pain to come. Her mother doesn't recognize her, repeatedly saying "Not my girl."  Not only is Margaret skinnier, taller, and has short hair, she can't speak her language and can't eat the food. Even her kamik (boots) give her blisters because she's now used to canvas runners. Teased by the other children and shunned by the adults, Margaret finds that she has more in common with the lone black man in the community. They're both strangers at home. 

Fortunately, Margaret's father, who had also been to residential school, helps her to regain the language and the customs. So it was difficult for him to ask her to return to the school with her sisters. He recognized that the world was changing, and they needed to learn or be left behind. Margaret knows that she can protect her sisters and help them retain the wisdom of their people.

Margaret's story is now accessible to younger readers with these picture book versions:

Not My Girl

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