Article by Serena Peck
Graphic Design by Mimi Guo
I first picked up this book in January 2022 as part of the Institute of Medical Science Student Association (IMSSA) EDI book club. Five Little Indians, written by Michelle Good, is a fictional exploration of children’s lives in and outside of residential schools set in the 60’s. Michelle Good is a Cree writer, lawyer, and member of Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.
The novel follows the stories of Kenny, Lucy, Maise, Clara, and Howie as they are taken to a residential school on Vancouver Island, Canada. We travel through the children’s lives from their point of view as they are either released or escape from the residential school to the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Each of the stories are interwoven and the novel switches from the past to present throughout. The characters may travel to different locations throughout their lives, but they are haunted by similar trauma.
Five Little Indians is a fantastic portrayal of the hardships and abuse these “survivors” suffer during and after their time in residential schools. Their stories highlight the physical, emotional, sexual, verbal, and systemic abuse they face inside and outside of these schools. Their pain and suffering do not end once they are physically “free” from the school.
I think the most powerful message this book portrays is how damaging the residential school system is and the how the Canadian government failed to support these “survivors”. The characters portray the real hardships faced by survivors as they are left with no social or financial assistance to transition into the world outside of the residential school system. The following quote stood out to me the most as it is filled with such honest reflection,
Lucy leaned back in her chair, hands folded in her lap. “They call us survivors.”
“I don’t think I survived. Do you?”
Reading this novel also made me reflect on what I had or had not learned on this topic growing up in Canada. I only started to educate myself on this topic in my adult life. Reading Five Little Indians has encouraged me to continue educating myself and reading books by Canadian Indigenous authors. Due to the fictional nature of this novel, it may be an easier read for those who are interested in learning about the residential school experience for the first time. The characters are formed with compassion, and it is written in a non-judgmental tone.
For anyone reading this book, no matter your prior knowledge of the topic, I think it will make you look deeper into the systemic issues surrounding indigenous culture that remain present today in Canada. Residential Schools were created in 1886 under the Indian Act. For more information on the Indian Act another book recommendation is “21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality”. To hear stories on what the experience is like, I recommend Five Little Indians as a powerful exploration into the lives of the residential school “survivors”.