As young Ashley walks to school through the quiet countryside, a car speeds past her and drops off an elderly man by a dilapidated railroad track where the old train station used to stand. The First Nations girl recognizes her great-uncle and runs to him. When she asks Uncle why he has come to sit by the tracks, he tells her that he is waiting for the train. Ashley knows that trains no longer use the ruined tracks so she asks him to explain.
Uncle hesitates, then sadly relates the tragic story of how he and other children in his First Nations community were wrenched from their parents and traditions, put on a train at that station, and sent to a residential school. He shares that he was there for six years, unable to speak any English, lonely and afraid. With tears in his eyes, he says, “I was like a little mouse, hiding in my room. I tried to be invisible. But they found me.”
Ashley is confused and asks Uncle, “Why did they do that?” Uncle replies, “Because we were different.” He explains that he comes to the tracks to remember what happened, but also to wait “for what we lost that day to come back to us.”
In this poignant children’s picture book, author Jodie Callaghan, a Mi’gmaq woman from the Listuguj First Nation in Gespegewa’gi near Quebec, shares the difficult, painful reality of residential schools with young readers in an age-sensitive manner. The book would be best understood and appreciated when read with an adult who can answer questions that will most likely arise.
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