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Orange Shirt Day: Home

Orange Shirt Day

Orange Shirt Day began in 2013 and was created to educate Canadians on the history and lasting impact of the residential school system. Every year on September 30th is a chance for communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation. You can read more here: https://www.orangeshirtday.org/.

For this year’s Orange Shirt Day, here is our list of books to raise awareness about the residential school system. 

Orange Shirt Day

Speaking Our Truth

Canada's relationship with its Indigenous people has suffered as a result of both the residential school system and the lack of understanding of the historical and current impact of those schools. Healing and repairing that relationship requires education, awareness and increased understanding of the legacy and the impacts still being felt by Survivors and their families.

Guided by acclaimed Indigenous author Monique Gray Smith, readers will learn about the lives of Survivors and listen to allies who are putting the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into action.

They Called Me Number One

Like thousands of Aboriginal children in Canada, and elsewhere in the colonized world, Xatsu'll chief Bev Sellars spent part of her childhood as a student in a church-run residential school. These institutions endeavored to "civilize" Native children through Christian teachings; forced separation from family, language, and culture; and strict discipline. Perhaps the most symbolically potent strategy used to alienate residential school children was addressing them by assigned numbers only--not by the names with which they knew and understood themselves.

In this frank and poignant memoir of her years at St. Joseph's Mission, Sellars breaks her silence about the residential school's lasting effects on her and her family--from substance abuse to suicide attempts--and eloquently articulates her own path to healing. Number One comes at a time of recognition--by governments and society at large--that only through knowing the truth about these past injustices can we begin to redress them.

The Orange Shirt Story

When Phyllis Webstad (nee Jack) turned six, she went to the residential school for the first time. On her first day at school, she wore a shiny orange shirt that her Granny had bought for her, but when she got to the school, it was taken away from her and never returned. This is the true story of Phyllis and her orange shirt. It is also the story of Orange Shirt Day (an important day of remembrance for First Nations and non First Nations Canadians).

Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada,Volume One: Summary

This book is the culmination of a six-year investigation into the residential school system. It summarizes the history of the Canadian institutions and documents the horrors experienced by students forced to attend them. The book also lays out 94 recommendations from Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the legacy of these schools.

Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors: A National History

This unique national history co-authored by award-winning Cree writer Larry Loyie, a residential school survivor himself, reflects the ongoing commitment to express the truths about residential school experiences and to honour the survivors whose voices are shared in this book. Along with the voices, readers will be engaged by the evocative archival and contemporary photographs.

Stolen Words

The story of the beautiful relationship between a little girl and her grandfather. When she asks her grandfather how to say something in his language, Cree, he admits that his language was stolen from him when he was a boy. The little girl then sets out to help her grandfather find his language again. This sensitive, beautifully illustrated picture book explores the intergenerational impact of Canada's residential school system, which separated young Indigenous children from their families.

I Am Not a Number

When Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school, she is confused, frightened and terribly homesick. She tries to remember who she is and where she came from despite being told to do otherwise. When she goes home for summer holidays, her parents decide never to send her away again, but where will she hide and what will happen when her parents disobey the law?

Fatty Legs

Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak has set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic. Faced with unceasing pressure, her father finally agrees to let her make the five-day journey to attend school, but he warns Margaret of the terrors of residential schools. At school Margaret soon encounters the Raven, a black-cloaked nun with a hooked nose and bony fingers that resemble claws. She immediately dislikes the strong-willed young Margaret. Intending to humiliate her, the heartless Raven gives gray stockings to all the girls -- all except Margaret, who gets red ones. In an instant Margaret is the laughingstock of the entire school. In the face of such cruelty, Margaret refuses to be intimidated and bravely gets rid of the stockings. Although a sympathetic nun stands up for Margaret, in the end it is this brave young girl who gives the Raven a lesson in the power of human dignity.

Complemented by archival photos from Margaret Pokiak-Fenton's collection and striking artworks from Liz Amini-Holmes, this inspiring first-person account of a plucky girl's determination to confront her tormentor will linger with young readers.

Not My Girl

Margaret can't wait to see her family, but her homecoming is not what she expected. Two years ago, Margaret left her Arctic home for the outsiders' school. Now she has returned and can barely contain her excitement as she rushes towards her waiting family--but her mother stands still as a stone. This strange, skinny child, with her hair cropped short, can't be her daughter. "Not my girl!" she says angrily. Margaret's years at school have changed her. Now ten years old, she has forgotten her language and the skills to hunt and fish. She can't even stomach her mother's food. Her only comfort is in the books she learned to read at school. Gradually, Margaret relearns the words and ways of her people. With time, she earns her father's trust enough to be given a dogsled of her own. As her family watches with pride, Margaret knows she has found her place once more.

Based on the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, and complemented by evocative illustrations, Not My Girl makes the original, award-winning memoir, A Stranger at Home, accessible to younger children. It is also a sequel to the picture book When I Was Eight. A poignant story of a determined young girl's struggle to belong, it will both move and inspire readers everywhere.

The Residential School Diary of Violet Pesheens

Violet Pesheens is struggling to adjust to her new life at residential school. She misses her Grandma; she has run-ins with Cree girls; at her "white" school, everyone just stares; and everything she brought has been taken from her, including her name-she is now just a number. But worst of all, she has a fear. A fear of forgetting the things she treasures most: her Anishnabe language; the names of those she knew before; and her traditional customs. A fear of forgetting who she was.

Her notebook is the one place she can record all of her worries, and heartbreaks, and memories. And maybe, just maybe there will be hope at the end of the tunnel.

Drawing from her own experiences at residential school, Ruby Slipperjack creates a brave, yet heartbreaking heroine in Violet, and lets young readers glimpse into an all-too important chapter in our nation's history.

Righting Canada's Wrongs - Residential Schools

In 1857, the Gradual Civilization Act was passed by the Legislature of the Province of Canada with the aim of assimilating First Nations people. In 1879, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald commissioned the "Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds." This report led to native residential schools across Canada. First Nations and Inuit children aged seven to fifteen years old were taken from their families, sometimes by force, and sent to residential schools where they were made to abandon their culture. They were dressed in uniforms, their hair was cut, they were forbidden to speak their native language, and they were often subjected to physical and psychological abuse. The schools were run by the churches and funded by the federal government. About 150,000 aboriginal children went to 130 residential schools across Canada. The last federally funded residential school closed in 1996 in Saskatchewan. The horrors that many children endured at residential schools did not go away. It took decades for people to speak out, but with the support of the Assembly of First Nations and Inuit organizations, former residential school students took the federal government and the churches to court. In 2008, Prime Minister Harper formally apologized to former native residential school students for the atrocities they suffered and the role the government played in setting up the school system. The agreement included the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which has since worked to document this experience and toward reconciliation.

Through historical photographs, documents, and first-person narratives from First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people who survived residential schools, this book offers an account of the injustice of this period in Canadian history. It documents how this official racism was confronted and finally acknowledged.

Up Ghost River

A powerful, raw and eloquent memoir about the abuse former First Nations chief Edmund Metatawabin endured in residential school in the 1960s, the resulting trauma, and the spirit he rediscovered within himself and his community through traditional spirituality and knowledge. After being seperated from his family at 6, Metatwabin was given a number and stripped of his Native identity. At his residential school, he was physically, emotionally and sexually abused. The trauma haunted him throughout his adult life until he reconnected with his Native past.

Sugar Falls

Based on a true story. A school assignment to interview a residential school survivor leads Daniel to Betsy, his friend's grandmother, who tells him her story. Abandoned as a young child, Betsy was soon adopted into a loving family. A few short years later, at the age of 8, everything changed. Betsy was taken away to a residential school. There she was forced to endure abuse and indignity, but Betsy recalled the words her father spoke to her at Sugar Falls -- words that gave her the resilience, strength, and determination to survive.

Sugar Falls is based on the true story of Betty Ross, Elder from Cross Lake First Nation. We wish to acknowledge, with the utmost gratitude, Betty's generosity in sharing her story. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Sugar Falls goes to support the bursary program for The Helen Betty Osborne Memorial Foundation.

Shi-Shi-Etko

Winner of the Anskohk Aboriginal Children's Book of the Year Award. Finalist for the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award, the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award and the Ruth Schwartz Award In just four days young Shi-shi-etko will have to leave her family and all that she knows to attend residential school. She spends her last days at home treasuring the beauty of her world -- the dancing sunlight, the tall grass, each shiny rock, the tadpoles in the creek, her grandfather's paddle song. Her mother, father and grandmother, each in turn, share valuable teachings that they want her to remember. And so Shi-shi-etko carefully gathers her memories for safekeeping.

Richly hued illustrations complement this gently moving and poetic account of a child who finds solace all around her, even though she is on the verge of great loss -- a loss that native people have endured for generations because of the residential schools system.

Indian Horse

This seminal novel by Richard Wagamese tells the story of Saul Indian Horse, a young Ojibway boy who is ripped from his family and forcibly placed in residential school. Saul, a gifted hockey player, is both victim and witness to the dehumanizing abuse of students at the school. As an adult, Saul becomes dependent on alcohol to cope with the trauma of his childhood.

The Education of Augie Merasty

This memoir offers a courageous and intimate chronicle of life in a residential school. Now a retired fisherman and trapper, the author was one of an estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children who were taken from their families and sent to government-funded, church-run schools, where they were subjected to a policy of "aggressive assimilation." As Augie Merasty recounts, these schools did more than attempt to mold children in the ways of white society. They were taught to be ashamed of their native heritage and, as he experienced, often suffered physical and sexual abuse. But, even as he looks back on this painful part of his childhood, Merasty's sense of humour and warm voice shine through.

A Stranger at Home

Traveling to be reunited with her family in the arctic, 10-year-old Margaret Pokiak can hardly contain her excitement. It's been two years since her parents delivered her to the school run by the dark-cloaked nuns and brothers. Coming ashore, Margaret spots her family, but her mother barely recognizes her, screaming, "Not my girl." Margaret realizes she is now marked as an outsider. And Margaret is an outsider: she has forgotten the language and stories of her people, and she can't even stomach the food her mother prepares. However, Margaret gradually relearns her language and her family's way of living. Along the way, she discovers how important it is to remain true to the ways of her people--and to herself.

Highlighted by archival photos and striking artwork, this first-person account of a young girl's struggle to find her place will inspire young readers to ask what it means to belong.

As Long As the Rivers Flow

Winner of the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-Fiction.

In the 1800s, the education of First Nations children was taken on by various churches, in government-sponsored residential schools. Children were forcibly taken from their families in order to erase their traditional languages and cultures.

As Long as the Rivers Flow is the story of Larry Loyie's last summer before entering residential school. It is a time of learning and adventure. He cares for an abandoned baby owl and watches his grandmother make winter moccasins. He helps the family prepare for a hunting and gathering trip.

My Name Is Seepeetza

An honest, inside look at life in an Indian residential school in the 1950s, and how one indomitable young spirit survived it. At six years old, Seepeetza is taken from her happy family life on Joyaska Ranch to live as a boarder at the Kalamak Indian Residential School. Life at the school is not easy, but Seepeetza still manages to find some bright spots. Always, thoughts of home make her school life bearable.

Ends/Begins

In 1964, two brothers are taken from the warm and loving care of their grandparents, and spirited away to a residential school, miles from home. James, assigned to manual work on the grounds, sees less and less of his younger brother, Thomas. James soon discovers the anguish that Thomas is living under, which leads to unspeakable tragedy. The pain and guilt that dogs James continues to affect his troubled son, Edwin (introduced in book 1). But a new understanding is dawning between them...

Ends/Begins is book 3 in the graphic novel series 7 Generations. Other books in this series: Book 1: Stone tells the story of a young Plains Cree man in the early 19th century, who fulfills his destiny as a warrior as he avenges his brother's death. Book 2: Scars, the story of the orphan White Cloud, set against the smallpox epidemic of 1870-1871. Book 4: The Pact (forthcoming), a story of redemption, as James and his son, Edwin, reconcile their past and begin a new journey.

Good for Nothing

The year is 1959, and 15-year-old Nipishish is kicked out of residential school, told by the principal that he's a good-for-nothing who, like all Indians, can look forward to a life of drunkenness, prison, and despair. Nipishish returns to the Métis reserve in northern Quebec where he was born, but feels even more isolated. His parents are dead and he is faced with the hopelessness of life on the reserve. He hopes for a fresh start when reserve officials give him the chance to live with a white family in an unfamiliar town. Despite a few bright spots, the adjustment and indignities in the city are too much to bear. Just when it seems that he will fulfill the predictions of the residential school principal, a girl named Pinamen and friends help bring him back to the reserve.

Adolescents will find inspiration in Nipishish's courage to reclaim his identity and claim his rightful place on the reserve. The book also provides great insight into the roots of many ongoing native issues.

Secret Path

Jeff Lemire tells the story of Chanie "Charlie" Wenjack, a twelve-year-old boy who died in flight from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School fifty years ago. Chanie, misnamed Charlie by his teachers, was a young boy who died on October 22, 1966, walking the railroad tracks, trying to escape from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School to return home. Chanie's home was 400 miles away. He didn't know that. He didn't know where it was, nor how to find it, but, like so many kids--more than anyone will be able to imagine--he tried.

Chanie's story is Canada's story. We are not the country we thought we were. History will be re-written. We are all accountable. Secret Path acknowledges a dark part of Canada's history--the long suppressed mistreatment of Indigenous children and families by the residential school system--with the hope of starting our country on a road to reconciliation. Every year as we remember Chanie Wenjack, the hope for Secret Path is that it educates all Canadians young and old on this omitted part of our history, urging our entire nation to play an active role in the preservation of Indigenous lives and culture in Canada. The next hundred years are going to be painful as we come to know Chanie Wenjack and thousands like him--as we find out about ourselves, about all of us--but only when we do can we truly call ourselves, "Canada." 

The Red Files

This debut poetry collection from Lisa Bird-Wilson reflects on the legacy of the residential school system: the fragmentation of families and histories, with blows that resonate through the generations. Inspired by family and archival sources, Bird-Wilson assembles scraps of a history torn apart by colonial violence. The collection takes its name from the federal government's complex organizational structure of residential schools archives, which are divided into "black files" and "red files." In vignettes as clear as glass beads, her poems offer affection to generations of children whose presence within the historic record is ghostlike, anonymous and ephemeral. The collection also explores the larger political context driving the mechanisms that tore apart families and cultures, including the Sixties Scoop. It depicts moments of resistance, both personal and political, as well as official attempts at reconciliation: "I can hold in the palm of my right hand / all that I have left: one story-gift from an uncle, / a father's surname, treaty card, Cree accent echo, metal bits, grit-- / and I will still have room to cock a fist."

The Red Files concludes with a fierce hopefulness, embracing the various types of love that can begin to heal the traumas inflicted by a legacy of violence.

Calling Down the Sky

In this poetry collection, Rosanna Deerchild calls attention to the traumatic impact of severing Indigenous children from their communities. Deerchild focuses on the survivors of the Canadian residential school system in the 1960s, who were forbidden to speak their languages and practice their culture. Calling Down the Sky illustrates how this cruelty reverberates across Indigenous communities and through generations of family.

Deerchild is the host of the CBC Radio show Unreserved. Calling Down the Sky is her second poetry collection.

Burning in this Midnight Dream

Celebrated Cree poet Louise Bernice Halfe was inspired to write the collection Burning in this Midnight Dream as the Truth and Reconciliation process unfolded. The book describes how survivors continue to be haunted by their experiences, and how that trauma has been passed down for generations. Halfe herself is a survivor of the residential school system.

Burning in this Midnight Dream won three Saskatchewan Book Awards, as well as the Raymond Souster Award. Her other books include Blue Marrow, Bear Bones & Feathers and The Crooked Good.

Northern Wildflower

Northern Wildflower is Catherine Lafferty's memoir of growing up as an intergenerational survivor of residential schools. Lafferty describes her powerful journey as a Dene woman in Yellowknife, contending with discrimination, poverty, addiction, love and loss.

When We Were Alone

When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother's garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long, braided hair and beautifully coloured clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away. When We Were Alone is a story about a difficult time in history, and, ultimately, one of empowerment and strength.

Also available in a bilingual Swampy Cree/English edition. When We Were Alone won the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award in the Young People's Literature (Illustrated Books) category, and was nominated for the TD Canadian's Children's Literature Award.