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I Am Not A Number

Powerful. Poignant. Part of our history.

We need more stories that are representative of our history. Not just those that are covered in our history books, but those that have been repressed so that the truth be hidden from our children. Since the truth is the truth, and we must face head first if we are to move forward as a better nation.

The injustices that occurred in the residential school system were an atrocious blemish on our country's image, but if we do not face up to our past, then we cannot create a better future for our children.

I Am Not A Number, written by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer is one such book. Set in Nippising First Nation, the "I" in I Am Not A Number, refers to eight-year-old Irene Couchie, who is forcefully taken away from her parents Ernest and Mary Ann, along with her two brothers, to live in a residential school system. Irene's number was 759. 

They are wards of the government, now. They belong to us.

The story takes us step-by-step through Irene's ordeal and experiences in the residential school. From nuns who refused to acknowledge the children by their names but rather refer to them by number. 

The nuns attempted to "scrub all the brown off" the children and cut Irene's hair. Irene explains that hair was seen as a source of pride back home, and they cut it when they lost a loved one. 

Now it felt as if a part of me was dying with every strand that fell.

And so goes the story. One by one, the schools attempt to change the children. To force them to forget their language, their culture, their family. In I Am Not A Number, there is a happy ending, but we all know that for thousands of children and families who lived through this brutality, there was no silver lining. 

I have read a lot of books for adults talking about the system, but it was refreshing to read one written for children. The illustrations by Gillian Newland do the book justice, as they brings to light the injustices of a system we'd much rather forget. 

The story is told in a very matter of fact prose. No embellishments. Simply narrated from Irene's point of view, making it honest and raw. 

There is also a special section at the end containing photographs of the real Irene and her family, who are depicted in this story. 


I Am Not A Number 
Written By Kathy Kacer and Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis. 
Illustrated by Gillian Newland. 

Published by Second Story Press