I Am Not a Number written by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer was published in September 2018. It is a children’s book that tells the true and personal story of Jenny’s grandmother’s experience at a Residential School in Ontario. When Irene Couchie Dupuis was eight years old, she and two of her brothers were taken to a Residential School and forced to leave everything they ever knew behind. When she first arrived, Irene was given the number 759 which is how she was referred to at the school and Irene was told to scrub the brown off of her skin which caused her to wonder why she was not accepted for who she was. The story highlights several other harsh expectations and dehumanizing requirements that Residential schools placed on the children in attendance along with various punishments that were frequently implemented. Ultimately, the children’s book outlines numerous effects that Residential schools had and continue to have on Indigenous Peoples. I Am Not a Number is a raw and powerful story and
“A moving glimpse into a not-very-long-past injustice.” – Kirkus Reviews
After reading the book just once, several questions come to mind that I believe educators could ask their students in reflection of the story to begin examining Residential Schools and their effects on Indigenous Peoples’ identities.
- How would you feel if you were stripped of your individual identity?
- How would you feel if aspects of who you are were seen as wrong and shameful?
- How do you think Irene’s experiences affect her and her family today?
I believe these questions or others that are similar in nature would help highlight the severity and reality of Residential Schools and inspire students to have the desire to learn more about the mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples in our country.
While researching the book, I found that the story has received an immense amount of praise and support from numerous other authors, reporters, and school representatives. Below I included a few quotes that stood out to me and emphasize the beauty of the book and the truth that it unveils.
“Residential and boarding school stories are hard to read, but they’re vitally important… books like I Am Not a Number should be taught in schools in Canada.” – Debbie Reese, American Indians in Children’s Literature
“I Am Not a Number is perfect to get the conversation about residential schools started with your children. It opens the door for them to ask questions about the subject and the story is relatable in a way they can follow.” – Residential School Magazine
“To any one looking for a book to teach children about the history of residential schools I Am Not A Number is without hesitation a very powerful and historical teaching tool.” – Anishinabek News
This book is a moving look into an injustice that continues to have ramifications for First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.” – Canadian Children’s Book News
“Few stories exist about the residential school system that are aimed at a younger age group, and this one is an absolute must for classrooms and libraries.” – Resource Links
In 2013, the most recent Treaty Education Outcomes and Indicators were released by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education in response to Treaty Education becoming mandated in 2007. The document outline four key K-12 goals as the basis for building understanding and nurturing appreciation that are to be addressed in various subject areas and understood best when they come together as a whole. Despite all four goals being related, I believe I Am Not a Number connects best with the following three goals because the topic of identity is a major theme in the book that is expressed through a story from Canada’s past which ignores the spirit and intent of treaties.
- Treaty Relationships (TR): By the end of Grade 12, students will understand that Treaty relationships are based on a deep understanding of peoples’ identity which encompasses: languages, ceremonies, worldviews, and relationship to place and the land.
- Spirit and Intent of Treaties (SI): By the end of Grade 12, students will recognize that there is interconnectedness between
thoughts and actions which is based on the implied and explicit intention of those actions. The spirit
and intent of Treaties serve as guiding principles for all that we do, say, think, and feel.
- Historical Context (HC): By the end of Grade 12, students will acknowledge that the social, cultural, economic, and political conditions of the past played and continue to play a significant role in both the Treaty reality of the present and the reality they have yet to shape.
Following the Treaty Outcomes, Residential Schools are only specifically outlined in grade 8 where the outcome SI-8 states: “Assess the impact Residential Schools have on First Nations communities.” There is no doubt that the book could be shared with a grade 8 class, however, I believe it could be used in numerous other classrooms. Below I outlined three cross-curricular examples of where I could see it fitting.
- In grades 6 to 9, to topics studied in English according to the Saskatchewan Curriculum are Personal and Philishophcial and Social, Cultural and Historical. Within these units, I Am Not a Number could be read with the focus on identity and what makes people who they are or with the emphasis on the historic event that continues to have social and cultural impacts on our country today.
- A dynamic relations outcome from the grade 4 Social Studies curriculum requires students to “Analyze the implications of the Treaty relationship in Saskatchewan” in which this book could be used to begin the conversation concerning how treaty agreements were not upheld appropriately.
- One of the K-12 Mathematics strands is statistics and probability and after reading this story, students could gather numerical data about Residential Schools and analyze it using mathematical reasoning and their statistical knowledge according to their particular grade level.
Today, all Residential Schools may be closed but their effects and similar identity issues continue across our country. Indigenous peoples of Canada are stereotyped and often mistreated due to their appearance and myths about our country’s past. It is critical for educators to address the corrupt goals of Residential Schools with their students and to acknowledge that as a country we still have work to do. I believe that reading stories such as I Am Not a Number, will ignite the fire in students to address our country’s past, commit to reconciliation, and be the change our communities need in order to begin living in harmony as the Treaties were put in place to allow for.