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I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis

by | Mar 20, 2022 | Indigenous Voices, Topics | 0 comments

I am not a number. 

In May of 2021 news broke in Canada of bodies being found buried in the grounds of residential schools.  Hundreds, then thousands, of bodies were discovered and these discoveries were how many people across North America even learned that residential schools existed, much less how recently they were still open and what kinds of atrocities occurred inside their halls. 

But how do you teach this topic to young children? 

I Am Not A Number does this with age-appropriate, yet still heartbreaking details. 

The story is focused on the true story of one little girl, Irene Couchie, as she and her brothers are removed from their home by an agent and taken to a residential school, where for a year she was referred to by a number instead of her name, had her hair cut short, and even detailed ways in which she was tortured for speaking her native language. 

In the end, when the agent returns the following year to collect the children for another term, she and her brothers hid in a shed and avoided capture. The author of the story is Irene’s granddaughter. 


I appreciated the realness of the book. It was brutally honest, and told from the perspective of an eight-year-old girl, with a spirit of factual innocence. There is no analyzing of behaviors, no complex emotional struggles, just a young child who missed her family and did not understand why such horrible things were happening to her. 


Currently my sons are seven- and four-years-old, respectively. After reading I Am Not A Number together, we talked about racism and colonialism. I asked them how they would feel if someone came through our front door, told us that they lived here now, and demanded that we look and act like them. They said they would feel sad, and my four-year-old added that he would feel angry, because we like the way we live and what we look like. We talked about how every person deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, and how different people groups have traditions that are unique to their cultures that don’t need to be changed just because someone else decided that their particular way of existence is better than the other. 

My seven-year-old stated “I’m glad I was born white so I wouldn’t be taken from you,” which gave us a wonderful opportunity to talk about his favorite Spider-Man quote “with great power comes great responsibility.” We discussed how his skin gives him the privilege of safety from bad things like residential schools, but he needs to use that privilege to stand up for others who are at risk. We can protect others by standing up to bullies in real time, going to protests, and making informed decisions when voting. 

Talking about these topics doesn’t have to be complex. They can begin with deeply moving true stories like this one, and just simply talking about values like respect, dignity, and empathy. 

Kids are smarter and more astute than we give them credit for. 



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