About this Item
Shin-chi’s Canoe is the haunting and beautifully written story of two children’s experience at residential school. Shi-shi-etko is about to return for her second year, but this time she is not alone – her six-year-old brother, Shin-chi, is going too. As they begin their journey in the back of a cattle truck, Shi-shi-etko takes it upon herself to tell her little brother all the things he must remember – the trees, the mountains, the rivers and the tug of the salmon when he and his dad pull in the fishing nets. Shin-chi knows he won’t see his family again until the sockeye salmon return in the summertime.
When they arrive at school, Shi-shi-etko reminds Shin-chi that they must only use their English names and that they aren’t allowed to speak to each other. Then she gives him the tiny cedar canoe, a gift from their father. The children’s time is filled with going to mass, school for half the day, and work the other half. The girls cook, clean and sew, while the boys work in the fields, in the woodshop and at the forge. They play outside in wind, hail, rain or snow. They eat thin soup and hard buns -- the teachers enjoy richer fare. Shin-chi is forever hungry and lonely. He finds solace down by the river, watching crystal snowflakes, holding tightly to his little canoe. He finally makes a friend and together they are “mischief times two,” stealing apples from the orchard and carrots from the root cellar to ease their hunger. And finally, the sockeye salmon swim up the river and the children return home for a joyful reunion with their family.
Nicola Campbell has drawn on interviews with her family and elders who are survivors of Indian Residential School in writing this book. In a brief note she provides further information about residential schools in North America and the reparations currently underway.
Written in lyrical free verse and beautifully illustrated, Shin-chi’s Canoe is an important contribution to children’s literature about the First Nations’ devastating experience in the government-sponsored residential school system.
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