Michelle Good explains why Indigenous people can’t ‘get through’ residential school trauma
Michelle Good says her book “Five Little Indians” is her answer to a frustrating question that often comes up in discussions about Indigenous peoples and residential schools in Canada: “Why can’t they get over it? As a lawyer, lawyer and dau
Michelle Good says her book “Five Little Indians” is her answer to a frustrating question that often comes up in discussions about Indigenous peoples and residential schools in Canada: “Why can’t they get over it?
As a lawyer, attorney and daughter of a residential school survivor, Ms. Good says the devastating long-term effects of the government system are an integral part of her life.
Good, a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation west of Saskatoon, says she drew on those experiences to create her acclaimed debut novel, “Five Little Indians,” with a braided narrative that distracts attention from the historic infliction of prejudice to the way Indigenous peoples carry this trauma with them to the present day.
“The question, why can’t they get over it?” The answer is not in horror of abuse, ”said Good, 64, of Savona, west of Kamloops, British Columbia. both with the survivor directly and intergenerational and at the community level. “
“Five Little Indians,” by HarperCollins Publishers, chronicles the cross-journeys of a group of residential school survivors from east Vancouver as they strive to rebuild their lives and familiarize themselves with their past.
The book won Amazon Canada’s First Novel Award on Thursday and is up for a Governor General’s Award next Tuesday, earning him the rare honor of being a promising 60-year-old author.
Now a referee, Good says she started working on the novel about a decade ago, juggling her practice of law and studying at the Creative Writing program at the University of British Columbia.
Although she was able to write later in life, Good says fiction has given her the freedom to explore truths that transcend the rigors of proof in the legal process.
“You don’t have to be factual to be true,” says Good, who once ran a small law firm and represented residential school survivors.
“One of the reasons people respond to this book is that it is true, if not factual, on a very, very visceral level.”
As part of her writing process, Good says she has studied hundreds of psychological assessments of survivors of childhood physical and sexual abuse to better understand how these injuries can shape a person’s trajectory.
She says this research has explained how the central characters of “Five Little Indians” deal with the life-changing aftershocks of being torn from their families and communities and forced into a system designed to “bring the Indian out of the child. “.
“The purpose of the book is to know how difficult it is to live with these impacts of leaving these schools just overwhelmed with psychological wounds, and of facing the lack of support, the lack of resources (and) racism” , said Good.
“It is something that has gone straight to the fabric of the indigenous community and has caused profound damage.”
Since its release in 2020, “Five Little Indians” has toured the literary awards circuit, securing places on Giller’s Long List and Writers’ Trust Shortlist last fall.
Good also pulled off the unusual feat of winning three major awards in a single day at the start of May.
“Five Little Indians” took home the $ 60,000 First Novel Award this week, is shortlisted for the Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Award next month, and is among the heavyweight finalists for the Governor General’s Literary Awards, which will be announced on Tuesday.
Others vying for the $ 25,000 prize in the Governor General’s fiction category: Thomas King, of Guelph, Ont., For “Indians on Vacation”, of HarperCollins Canada; Francesca Ekwuyasi of Halifax with “Butter Honey Pig Bread”, Arsenal Pulp Press; Leanne Betasamosake Simpson for “Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies,” from House of Anansi Press; and Lisa Robertson, born in Toronto, for “The Baudelaire Fractal” by Coach House Books.
Good says the rewards have been “extremely satisfying”. But most significant of all is the reception the book received from residential school survivors and their families who recognize their own stories in the characters Good created, she says.
“This is my love letter to survivors,” Good says. “I feel like it’s something I can be proud of until one day I move on.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 28, 2021.
Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press