Indigenous writer Michelle Good speaks about enduring trauma of residential school system

An open book
Five Little Indians book cover
The cover of Michelle Good’s book Five Little Indians

Writer and lawyer Michelle Good is of Cree ancestry, a descendent of the Battle River Cree and a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. On Sept. 21, she joined the Canadian Writers in Person event series at York via Zoom to talk about her novel Five Little Indians. York University teaching assistant Dana Patrascu-Kingsley sent the following report to YFile.

The novel follows the lives of five characters who, having gone through a residential school, are trying to deal with that trauma and find a way to heal and live their lives.

“I think it’s important to have these conversations – not only about the book but about the truth inherent in the book: our not-so-distant history, which we continue to feel in our communities and will for generations to come…. Trauma continues to echo and echo and echo through the generations,” said Good.

She started working with Indigenous organizations when she was 18 and practically everybody she was working with was a survivor of the residential school system – either intergenerationally or directly. “Writing this was cathartic and therapeutic for me,” said Good. “I spent 14 years, where every single day I was listening to the stories of survivors – the horrible experiences, the traumas that were imposed upon them and their incredible responses.… It was kind of healing for me to give voice to survivors.”

Primarily, this book is a response to “the ubiquitous, exasperating and infuriating question: Why can’t they just get over it? I wanted to answer that question. These were genocidal acts, and if anyone believes that this was well-intentioned, there is lots of evidence to demonstrate that it wasn’t.”

The writer explained that she decided on fiction rather than non-fiction “firstly, to honour our Indigenous form of teaching that takes the form of storytelling, and secondly, because you have a greater latitude with fiction to fully create the characters with all of the facets of their personalities that make them whole, breathing, living characters…. Something need not be factual in order to be true.”

Good invited all Canadians to take control of their education so that the difficult process of reconciliation can begin. “There are all kinds of smart, humane, empathetic, wonderful Canadians out there that need to educate themselves and speak up.”