Tag Archives: residential schools

Tanna’s Owl

Written by: Rachel & Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley

Illustrated by: Yong Ling Kang

For ages: 4 years and up

Language: English, some Inuktitut (pronunciation guide in back as well)

Topics Covered: First Nations, Residential Schools, Own Voices, Responsibility, Pets, Growing Up, Indigenous Voices. 


This is a lovely book based on author Rachel’s own life experience raising an owl.  Tanna, or main character, receives an owlet from her father one day with instructions to care for it and make sure it has everything it needs.  Tanna jumps at the chance initially, but becomes a bit worn down when Ukpik the owl requires more and more attention without any affection given in return.  It is a wild animal, after all.

We were drawn into this story, with its unique and truthful outlook.  This book acknowledges that Tanna doesn’t always feel like raising Ukpik is rewarding, and that is refreshing.  At the end of the summer, Tanna must return to school (leaving Ukpik behind), which upon reading the Author’s Note the reader learns that she is educated at a Residential School.  When she returns the next summer, Ukpik has learned to fly and isn’t there anymore.  Tanna has a lot of respect for the owl, and is glad that she helped it thrive despite not always being excited to wake up early to catch lemmings for it to eat, or clean up all the poop.

I really loved how Inuit cultural values were woven into this story, and coupled with own voices lived experiences from Rachel’s childhood.  This story emphasizes the value of hard work and appreciation for nature, it’s a fantastic real aloud for young people who might be expressing interest for a pet as well!

This book was sent to us by Inhabit Media, but all opinions are our own!

About the Author & the Illustrator:

Qitsualik-TinsleyOf Inuit-Cree ancestry, RACHEL QITSUALIK-TINSLEY was born in a tent on northernmost Baffin Island. She learned Inuit survival lore from her father, surviving residential school and attending university. In 2012, she was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for numerous cultural writings. Of Scottish-Mohawk ancestry, SEAN QITSUALIK-TINSLEY was born in southern Ontario, learning woodcraft and stories from his father. Training as an artist, then writer, Sean’s sci-fi work won 2nd place at the California-based Writers of the Future contest, published by Galaxy Press. Rachel and Sean have worked for decades as Arctic researchers and consultants. In writing together, they have published 10 successful books and many shorter works, celebrating the history and uniqueness of Arctic shamanism, cosmology, and cosmogony. Their novel, Skraelings: Clashes in the Old Arctic, was a Governor General Awards Finalist and First Prize Burt Award winner.


Yong Ling Kang is a full-time freelance illustrator. Having worked in animation studios and a publishing company for some years, she’s now living and working from home based in Toronto.  Raised in tropical Singapore, she find comfort in playing water sports, taking walks in green spaces, and savouring spicy food. A glass of milo peng / teh-c siu-dai anytime!


Home to Medicine Mountain

Written by: Chiori Santiago

Illustrated by: Judith Lowry

For ages: Upper elementary, ages 9 and up.

Language: English, some Indigenous words (unidentified tribe)

Topics Covered: Indigenous Voices, Residential Schooling, Resistance, Historical Figure, Historical Events, Family, Love, Native American Culture & Traditions.

Summary: This book is based on a true story, one of illustrator Judith Lowry’s ancestors.  The story is about how Lowry’s father and uncle wanted to visit their family back home on Medicine Mountain, but were stuck at their residential school in Riverside, California.  The tale takes place in the 1930’s, beginning in the fall when the main characters Benny Len and Stanley first arrive at their residential school, setting the stage that this is an important but difficult story to read.  Benny Len and Stanley don’t like having to wear shoes or a scratchy wool uniform, and they don’t like being forced to speak English.  In class, they are taught a completely Eurocentric curriculum and denied their cultural heritage and traditions.  Both boys dream of their family and the stories their grandmother tells them of their ancestors as well as the food she would make them.  Benny Len dreams and dreams of staying at his grandmothers house, and of the sacred bear dance that happens every spring.  When summertime comes, the boys’ family doesn’t have enough to pay for tickets home so they must stay at the school and work.  Stanley vows to think of a plan, and Benny Len is awoken one night by him.  They have a plan, and must sneak out of the school!  Stanley’s plan is to ride the rails back home to Medicine Mountain, back to their community and family.  While they did have to go back to the school, every year they came home for the summer, and for the bear dance.

Reflection Questions: 

  • How do you think the boys felt when they had to stay over the summer, and couldn’t go home?
  • How would you resist having your culture taken from you?
  • What would you like to say to Benny Len and Stanley?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • We all live on stolen land, even though residential schools are now closed.  What tribal land is your community on?  How can we honor the original users of the land, and continue to appreciate it?
  • Often it is not conveyed strongly enough that indigenous people still live today, and not all of them live on reservations.   Learn more about the repercussions of residential schooling, the reverberations of which are still being felt today by indigenous families.
  • Benny Len dreams of the bear dance, and of his grandmother.  Learn more about the bear dance and other special ceremonies and traditions that are important to the tribes that occupied the lands you now live on.

About the Author & the Illustrator:

chioriChiori Santiago covered visual art, performance and music in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1986. Her articles and essays appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, Smithsonian, Latina, Parenting, World Art, American Craft, Pulse and many other fine publications. She worked as associate editor of the Oakland Museum of California’s publication; and was editor of Nikkei Heritage, the magazine of the National Japanese American Historical Society.

In 1998, Chiori published a children’s book, Home to Medicine Mountain, with artist Judith Lowry. The book earned an American Book Award and recognition from Stepping Stones magazine and the American Library Association.

Chiori won the “Maggie” Award for Best Column from the Western States Publishers Association for her writing in Diablo magazine, among numerous other awards. Chiori was a contributor to the book The Spirit of Oakland: An Anthology, and editor of the book Voices Of Latin Rock: Music From The Streets, an oral history of San Francisco’s Latin rock scene.  Sadly, she passed away in 2007 from kidney cancer.

judith-lowryJudith Lowry and her brother were also destined to be globetrotters, following their dad to posts in Germany, Japan, Australia, and towns throughout the United States. A shy girl who expressed herself through art, Lowry won her first competition at age 6 for a drawing of a fantastic, Hieronymus Bosch-ish world populated by strange, vibrant creatures. Among her other influences were illustrations in May Gibbs’ books for children and paintings in European museums.

Instead of attending college, Lowry bowed to her parents wishes and got married, raised children, and worked as a hairdresser. Her artistic indulgences were limited to taking photographs at weddings and community events and teaching art. She settled in her father’s hometown of Susanville, CA. Encouraged to investigate Humboldt State University, she finally enrolled there. “I was in my 30s, and I felt like the oldest living co-ed in the world,” she recalls of her Humboldt years. “But I managed to graduate and distinguish myself in the art department.”

With a master’s degree in hand, Lowry found career success. Today she is among the most recognized Native artists in the country and one of only a handful representing California tribes, a fact she took seriously when invited by the Smithsonian to participate in Continuum 12, a series of solo shows by a dozen important contemporary Native artists.

Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code; A Navajo Code Talker’s Story

Written by: Joseph Bruchac

Illustrated by: Liz Amini-Holmes

For ages: 8 and up

Language: English & Navajo

Topics Covered: Indigenous Voices, Historical Figures, Historical Events, Culture & Traditions. 

Summary: Once a Navajo boy named Betoli had to go to Fort Defiance boarding school, and was given the name Chester.  He was not allowed to speak Navajo, and his long hair got cut off.  Chester was very lonely, and longed for his traditional Navajo lifestyle that was banned at Fort Defiance.  He enjoyed learning, but did not agree that the Navajo language was worthless, and promised himself that he would never lose ties with his cultural heritage.  When Chester was in tenth grade, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Considering himself a brave Navajo warrior, he vowed to fight for his land.  One day, Marines came to Chester’s reservation and asked for people who could speak both Navajo and English.  The Japanese were too good at breaking the secret codes the US tried to use, and they wanted to try using Navajo because it is an incredibly complicated language.  Chester became proud that he never stopped believing in his first language, and signed up for the military.   32 Navajo men were chosen to build these codes for the military, and Chester loved it.  Then came the time to test the code in battle, and it worked!  Chester worked very hard, despite seeing terrible things during combat.  He prayed in Navajo everyday and used traditional medicines to keep himself healthy.  When he returned home, he was depressed and tired from seeing so much death and violence.  Chester also could not tell anyone about the secret Navajo codes.  His family could sense he needed help, and performed a traditional Enemy Way ceremony for him to help ease his troubled mind.  This ceremony was also done for children returning from boarding school, and Chester had been through the ceremony before.  The ceremony helped Chester, and he began to feel better.  The Navajo code talkers were instrumental in winning WWII, and Chester was proud of his heritage and ability to merge into the white world.

This is a great book about something not talked about enough.  It gently explains war without glossing over too much, and provides fantastic historical context about how Indigenous people have been treated by the government.  After the story there is an Author’s Note about the life of Chester Nez, as well as a portion of Navajo code with phonetic pronunciations and a timeline of events.

Reflection Questions:

  • Why do you think Chester had to go to boarding school?
  • How would you feel if someone told you the language you loved to speak was worthless?
  • Why do you think it was important to Chester to not forget his Navajo culture, even though he was urged to?
  • How do you think Chester felt when he was able to help so many people with something that he cared so much about?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Learn more about another of the original Navajo code talkers.  What did they do after they finished helping make the codes?  Are any still alive today? Watch videos of them giving interviews, or speaking in their codes!
  • Make your own secret code, and share it with a friend or classmate.  Write each other notes using your code, and see how well you can communicate with each other!
  • Learn more about how Indigenous people have helped the government.  The government and other individuals have not always been very nice to the native people living in North America.  Despite this, tribes have helped the government with the Navajo codes.  See what else you can find about different tribes.

About the Author & the Illustrator:

joseph bruchac
Photo by Eric Jenks


For over thirty years Joseph Bruchac has been creating poetry, short stories, novels, anthologies and music that reflect his Native American heritage and traditions. He is the author of more than 120 books for children and adults. The best selling Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children and others of his “Keepers” series, with its remarkable integration of science and folklore, continue to receive critical acclaim and to be used in classrooms throughout the country.



lizBorn and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Liz Amini-Holmes wanted be an archeologist, a paranormal researcher, an astronaut but most of all she wanted to be a detective with Scotland Yard. However, she decided working as an artist was way more fun than any of those jobs and required a lot less math. She has a BFA in Illustration from Academy of Art University and University of San Francisco. She is an award winning aritst and her work ranges from poster design, book illustration, editorial illustration, to apparel design, art direction, advertising, merchandising, and multimedia. She’s proficient in multiple forms of traditional media as well as digital tools.

When We Were Alone

Written by: David A. Robertson

Illustrated by: Julie Flett

For Ages: Infant and up

Language: English and Cree

Topics Covered: Indigenous Voices, Residential Schools, First Nations,

Summary: This tender board book explores the history of residential schooling that was inflicted upon Indigenous and First Nations people.  A young girl helps her grandmother in the garden and asks questions about things her grandmother does, such as wearing bright colors, having long hair, and speaking in Cree.  The narrator’s grandmother tells of the times in her childhood that she was forced to live in a residential school, and had her autonomy, culture, and language taken away.

The book’s typography changes colors when speaking about past and present, which is a beautiful representation and goes well with Flett’s illustrations.  The book approaches this time in history in an accurate and easy to understand way for young children.  It is a story of a young girl subverting authority with an emphasis on explanation and healing; a grandmother living her truth despite those that tried to steal her culture demanding submission from the Indigenous children they took from their families under the guise of education.

Reflection Questions:

  • How would you feel if you were told not to do things important to your family and culture?
  • How do you think the children feel when they sneak away and remind themselves how important their culture is to their identity?
  • Do you think the children feel better once they’re back with their families instead of at the residential school?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Residential schooling is an important part of Indigenous history. Learn about all types of schooling as part of an in-depth unit about schools around the world, as well as in your community.
  • Invite a classroom guest to come and talk about their culture!
  • Talk with elders in your community about how they grew up.  What things are different from how you’re growing up today?  What things are the same?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

david a robertsonDavid A. Robertson is an award-winning writer. His books include When We Were Alone (Governor General’s Literary Award winner, McNally Robinson Best Book for Young People winner, TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award finalist), Will I See? (winner of the Manuela Dias Book Design and Illustration Award Graphic Novel Category), and the YA novel Strangers. David educates as well as entertains through his writings about Canada’s Indigenous Peoples reflecting their cultures, histories, communities, as well as illuminating many contemporary issues. David is a member of Norway House Cree Nation. He lives in Winnipeg.

julie flettJulie Flett is a Cree-Metis author, illustrator, and artist. She has received many awards including the 2017 Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature for her work on When We Were Alone by David Robertson (High Water Press), the 2016 American Indian Library Association Award for Best Picture Book for Little You by Richard Van Camp (Orca Books), and she is the three-time recipient of the Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Award for Owls See Clearly at Night; A Michif Alphabet, by Julie Flett, Dolphin SOS, by Roy Miki and Slavia Miki (Tradewind Books), and My Heart Fills with Happiness, by Monique Gray Smith (Orca Books). Her own Wild Berries (Simply Read Books) was featured in The New York Times and included among Kirkus’s Best Children’s Books of 2013. Wild Berries was also chosen as Canada’s First Nation Communities Read title selection for 2014–2015.