Sugar Falls: A Residential School Story
by David Alexander Robertson
illustrated by Scott B. Henderson
HighWater Press, 2011
$15.00, 40 pp, b/w illustrations, ages 13 – 17
In this graphic novel, a school assignment to interview a residential school survivor leads Daniel to his friend’s grandmother. Daniel and April meet with April’s “kokum” and hear the story of her childhood. Abandoned by her mother, who also was a survivor of residential school, she was found and adopted by a family when she was five years old. Her new family treated her as a daughter and she experienced love for the first time. Just a few years later, however, she was taken from the family and placed into a residential school where she found coldness and cruelty. Her adopted father had taught her to find strength in the relationships between their ancestors, their traditions, Mother Earth and each other, and to use them as a light when darkness comes, as he knew it would. Upon arrival at the school, she was stripped and scrubbed, her hair was cut, she was sexually abused and physically punished for speaking her native language. Throughout her years at the school she held on to her father’s words and somehow survived, eventually moving to Winnipeg where she attended high school. Based on the life of Betty Ross, Elder from Cross Lake First Nation, this story represents the experience of many who attended residential school and serves to educate others about a shameful period in Canada’s history.
Classroom Connections: David Alexander and Scott Henderson are the team who brought us the graphic novel series, 7 Generations. Sugar Falls is another example of this duo’s ability to tell a very sad and difficult story in a straightforward manner. Although the graphic novel format makes this book readily accessible to students with a wide range of reading abilities, the content takes some real work to process. Sugar Falls is most suitable for students at the secondary level and for their teachers who might be looking for resources to integrate Aboriginal curriculum into the classroom. This book provides many opportunities to focus on the concepts of questioning and inferring as effective reading strategies. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Sugar Falls goes to the bursary program for the Helen Betty Osborne Memorial Foundation.
Review by Diana Mumford and Brenda Boreham.
This review is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s May/June 2012 issue.