Residential schools can be a hard subject to broach, but it's critical non-Indigenous people learn about them — including children, according to Melissa Yu Schott, director of public libraries in Yukon.
It's been roughly a week since the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found at a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. The discovery has sent shockwaves across the country, with many leaders calling for similar ground searches at other residential school sites.
Yu Schott told Yukon Morning the discovery is an important reminder for people to understand the legacy of the schools.
While learning about Indigenous issues best comes from community members themselves, not everyone has the connections needed to sit by a fire with an elder, according to Yu Schott.
"So I'd say the second best place is the library," she said.
Enter Shi-Shi-etko, a picture book intended for readers between the ages of four and seven years old that addresses residential schools.
Written by Nicola Campbell, who's Salish and Métis, the book doesn't go into explicit detail about the experience, Yu Schott said.
That's because the protagonist, Shi-Shi-etko, has yet to arrive at residential school — it's the day before she is taken away from her family. The story goes through the motions of one child's experience to remember fragments of her culture.
"She observes the sway of the grass or the smell of barbecue sockeye salmon, the sound of a canoe paddle hitting the water," Yu Schott said.
"It doesn't get into graphic detail," she said. "I think being separated from families is kind of jarring enough for kids at that age, so it's really an age appropriate way to start the conversation."
Sweetest Kulu, by Celina Kalluk, who's Inuit from Resolute Bay, Nunavut, is another suggested read from Yu Schott.
She said the lullaby describes various fauna of the eastern Arctic, Yu Schott said.
"There are still aspects that Yukon kids can relate to, such as long summers, the playful fox, the patient caribou, and the illustrations in this one are really sweet and majestic at the same time," she said.
"I chose this one to honour the 215 children whose remains were found in Kamloops, as well as all those children who are still unaccounted for throughout Canada, because, despite how they passed away, they were loved and they are still loved now, based on the number of people who participated in the walk earlier this week and other demonstrations throughout the country."
Both books are available in hardcopy or e-book at public libraries across Yukon.