I Am Not a Number

Written by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer and illustrated by Gillian Newland

Published September 6, 2016 by Second Story Press (Links to an external site.)

When the Indian agent arrives at Irene Couchie’s house on Nipissing Reserve Number 10, he tells her parents that he is taking the three school-aged children, Irene and her brothers George and Ephraim: “They are wards of the government, now. They belong to us.”  When Irene’s parents resist, the agent threatens to have them fined or jailed if they do not cooperate. 

As the children are leaving, their mother reminds them, “Never forget our home or our ways.  Never forget us. Never forget who you are!”

At the school, Irene introduces herself to Sister Mary and is informed that they do not use names at the school.  Everyone is called by their number and Irene is 759.  The children are sent to the showers where they are told to “scrub all the brown off,” and then their long hair is cut.  The food at the school turns Irene’s stomach, but she is warned by the older girls that if she does not eat her breakfast, it will be served to her for lunch and that if she vomits, she will be forced to eat it. Irene is punished for speaking her language.  Sister Mary forces her to hold a pan of hot coals with her bare hands.  Irene tries her best to hold onto her mother’s words.

Finally, summer arrives and Irene and her brothers return to their home. She is happy to be away from school, but she is plagued by nightmares.  Irene tells her parents about her experiences at school and it is decided that, regardless of the repercussions, the children will not return.

The Indian agent comes to the house to collect the children, but they are hidden.  Their father tells the agent that he can call the police and have him arrested, but he will not take the children.  The agent relents.

This remarkable story of survival is based on the true experiences of Jenny Kay Dupuis’ grandmother, Irene Couchie Dupuis.

Introducing the Authors and Illustrator:

Learn more about the author Jenny Kay Dupuis here (Links to an external site.).

Learn more about the author Kathy Kacer here (Links to an external site.).

Learn more about the illustrator Gillian Newland here (Links to an external site.).

Learning More About the Book:

Read this interview in Muskrat Magazine (Links to an external site.) to learn more about the background to this story.

Watch this TinLids video (Links to an external site.) of Jenny Kay Dupuis talking about the book.

Read reviews of I Am Not a Number here (Links to an external site.) and here (Links to an external site.).

Listen to this interview with Jenny Kay Dupuis (Links to an external site.) in which she discusses Orange Shirt Day.

Developing Background Knowledge:

 Educators who would like to know more about residential schools in Canada can start with these sources.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (Links to an external site.)

Residential Schools in Canada Education Guide (Links to an external site.)

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (University of Manitoba)

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