TOP IMAGE: Michelle Good © Silken Sellinger Photography
By Allie Murray
When Michelle Good set out to write her first novel, she was determined to find a way to connect Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers through a story that Indigenous people know all too well: the trauma and hurt experienced at the hands of Canada’s residential school system.
Good is of Cree ancestry and a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation. For as long as she can remember, she has been an advocate for residential school survivors, which led her to write her debut novel Five Little Indians.
“It is my sincere wish, and the reason I wrote the book, that non-Indigenous Canadians will begin to truly understand that residential schools were a life and death experience for the children and the impacts of the trauma experienced there continues to resonate through our communities,” Good explained. “We didn’t just experience this as individuals, we experienced it collectively as well.”
The novel follows five students—Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie, and Maisie—as they leave the church-run residential school in British Columbia and adjust to a new life in Vancouver. The story takes place over decades and shows the five friends crossing paths time and time again as they work through the trauma they endured at the residential school.
From writing the first paragraph to publication, it took nine years for Five Little Indians to be finished. Good notes that the slow process was necessary, saying that it’s not a subject she wanted to approach lightly.
Good explained that as Indigenous people work through their healing, and non-Indigenous Canadians come to understand what truly happened at these schools, she hopes her novel aids in the healing process.
“There are few things more healing than being heard,” Good shared. “I hope survivors reading this book come away knowing they’ve been heard. I focused on the aftermath of the schools—the kids trying to survive after leaving—to show the ongoing impacts and the tremendous burden of psychological injury survivors bear.”
While writing the book, Good wanted the reader to immediately be confronted with the severity of the book’s themes.
“The title is in reference to the terrible, racist nursery rhyme that has been used to dehumanize many peoples of colour,” she said. “I wanted the reader to know immediately that this was a book about profound racism.”
Since the novel was released in April 2020, Good has received a number of accolades for her work; winning the 2021 Amazon Canada First Novel Award, the 2020 Governor General’s Literary Awards and more.
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