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Author: Smith, Monique Gray
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Year Published: 2017
ISBN: 9781459815834
Grades: Grade 5, Grade 6, Grades 7 to 9, Grades 9 to 12

Speaking Our Truth – A Journey of Reconciliation

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“Speaking Our Truth – A Journey of Reconciliation” is an outstanding narrative non-fiction, student resource for exploring the issues and the impact of residential schools on Canada’s Indigenous peoples.  Monique Gray Smith is a Canadian author of Cree, Lakota and Scottish heritage who lives on Vancouver Island.  Smith uses her own plus the real stories of adults and children, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to explore the past and present issues.  With both Indigenous and non-Indigenous ancestors, she recognizes both perspectives in this text aimed at an upper elementary and junior high audience.
The text is divided into four main chapters.
The first chapter, “Welcome to the Journey”, explores Smith’s own story.  She uses the recurring metaphor of a journey that is easily understood by children and challenges readers to come on the “journey”.
Using the names from a three-strand braid of sweetgrass, Smith organizes the following three chapters under the heading of Honesty, Love and Kindness.  In the chapter, Honesty, Smith uses first person narrative stories of living residential school survivors to tell about the impact and lasting effects these conditions had for the students as they became adults and the impact on their children.  Smith tries to reflect on all sides and includes stories of some survivors who had positive experiences and the challenges that they faced in their communities when they tried to share an experience different from the majority.  In a readable, conversational text, Smith explains concepts:  treaty, Indian Act, Sixties Scoop, current court rulings, legal changes, changes in vocabulary and usage over the years. (Indian, First Nations, Aboriginal, Indigenous)
In the final two chapters, Love and Kindness, Smith explores what reconciliation means and that it may mean differently depending on where in the process, or journey, each person has arrived.  She explores the work and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Through personal stories from students in schools today, and from the grandchildren of survivors, Smith gives voice to current understandings among today’s youth.  Through stories from “allies” readers learn about people who are putting reconciliation into action.  In the concluding remarks, Smith challenges all readers with the final question: “What can I do?” and she adds, “One thing I know for sure is that there is always an answer.  And it is never – Nothing.  There is always something we can do”.
This is a remarkable, student-centered, readable text that will be a valuable FNMI resource on the residential school period, and the reconciliation process as it has emerged to date.  Because of its emphasis on “stories”, it is also an important resource for the Grade 5 and 4 Social Studies units on the History and Stories of Alberta and Canadian peoples.
This resource also uses the important non-fiction text features that will help students navigate text and find the information they need:

  • Bold headings and sub-headings
  • New vocabulary in dark print text with definitions immediately available in coloured side bar boxes
  • “reflection circles” on many pages pose questions for students to consider individually, in small groups or in class discussion
  • Illustrations, archival photographs, and current photographs appear on every page
  • End pages challenge students to take part in the journey by introducing projects, organizations, and initiatives, in which they can be involved
  • Bibliography of Online resources and a reading list
  • Glossary
  • List of Residential Schools in Canada
  • Index and Table of Contents

This is a book that will be an important addition to the library.  In addition, teachers might wish several copies (soft cover edition) for classroom use.

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