Author Michelle Good embarking on Sask. tour with best-seller Five Little Indians

Sitting in the reception room of Lt.-Gov. Russ Mirasty – the first Indigenous commissioner to bear the title – Michelle Good shared a passage from her poignant debut novel Five Little Indians.

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“What I needed so badly was to stand on the stool by the stove and stir gently under her watchful eye, like when I was little,” she read.

“Being small again, living without fear and brutality – nobody gets that back. All that is left is a desire, insatiable and complex.”

The four-minute glimpse kicked off an upcoming tour by Good as the choice for this year’s One Book One Province program organized by the Saskatchewan Library Association.

Five Little Indians tells the stories of five Indigenous children who were sent to a remote boarding school on the BC coast in the 1960s, and then follows their return home and subsequent struggles to readjust ten years later.

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“I hope the book will inspire people to reconsider what they think they know about Canadian history, residential homes and intergenerational trauma,” she said.

“There’s nothing more rewarding than realizing you’re wrong and then setting about moving to a deeper, more accurate understanding.”

The intention of the events is to promote literacy and explore books by Saskatchewan authors, said committee chair Colleen Murphy.

“It’s meant to encourage discussion and provide an opportunity to bring people together through a shared story,” Murphy said.

Good is a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation through her mother, although she was born in BC and lived there until her recent move back to Saskatchewan in 2021.

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Although fictional, Five Little Indians is in many ways a personal story.

“It’s based on reality, although I didn’t limit myself to actual circumstances,” Good said.

She used details from her mother’s life as a survivor and from friends who shared experiences she had learned over her 25 years of work with indigenous organizations.

She also draws from her own experience as a child separated from her family in the Sixties Scoop.

“It’s not something I had to research. It’s something my life has been immersed in.”

When asked what inspired her to write about the residential school experience in Canada, Good’s response was succinct.

“Outrage, frustration, irritation, annoyance — all of that,” she said. “That ever-present question, ‘Why can’t you just get over it?’ got so frustrating for me that I thought, okay, well, I’ll answer that question. And that’s what I intend to do.”

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Good’s debut novel was published in 2020 and has since received many awards, including the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Amazon First Novel Award, winning the title at Canada Reads 2022.

It was longlisted for the Giller Prize and Writer’s Trust Awards, shortlisted for the Indigenous Voices Awards, and topped bestseller lists on Globe and Mail, CBC and more.

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Five Little Indians is nearing a quarter million copies sold, Good said.

She described the success as “stunning” for a book she thought would be “for a niche audience,” but sees the awards as a welcome vehicle to spread the conversation further.

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“They raise the profile of the book. More people will probably pick it up and think about how important it is to understand what really happened.”

One Book One Saskatchewan will stop for events in Yorkton, Regina, Swift Current, North Battlefield and Saskatoon beginning March 22nd.

Being able to tour in this way, to engage in honest conversations about the material in Five Little Indians, is exactly what Good wanted when she began writing her book.

“Indigenous literature is a critical aspect of indigenous activism,” she said. “It is crucial that we tell our own stories. No one but us can tell our stories.”

The tour also heralds the arrival of Good’s second book, a collection of essays on contemporary Indigenous experiences in Canada entitled Truth Telling, due out in May.

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