Michelle Good says her book “Five Little Indians” is her response to a frustrating question that often comes up in discussions about Indigenous people and Canada’s residential schools.

Michelle Good’s book answers why Indigenous people can’t ‘get over’ residential school trauma

‘The answer isn’t in the horror of the abuse, the answer is in how that continues to play out, both with the survivor directly and intergenerationally and at a community level’

Michelle Good says her book “Five Little Indians” is her response to a frustrating question that often comes up in discussions about Indigenous people and Canada’s residential schools: “Why can’t they just get over it?”

As an advocate, lawyer and daughter of a residential school survivor, Good says the devastating long-term impacts of the government-run system are woven into the fabric of her life.

Good, a member of Red Pheasant Cree Nation west of Saskatoon, says she drew from these experiences in crafting her acclaimed debut novel, “Five Little Indians,” with a braided narrative that shifts focus from the historic infliction of harm to how Indigenous people carry that trauma with them into the present day.

“The question, why can’t they just get over it? The answer isn’t in the horror of the abuse,” says Good, 64, from Savona, west of Kamloops, B.C. “The answer is in how that continues to play out, both with the survivor directly and intergenerationally and at a community level.”

“Five Little Indians,” from HarperCollins Publishers, traces the intersecting journeys of a group residential school survivors in east Vancouver as they work to rebuild their lives and come to grips with their pasts.

The book won the Amazon Canada First Novel Award on Thursday and is up for a Governor General’s prize this coming Tuesday, earning Good the rare distinction of being a sexagenarian up-and-coming author.

Now an adjudicator, Good says she first began working on the novel about a decade ago while juggling her law practice and her studies at University of British Columbia’s creative writing program.

While she may have come to writing later in life, Good says fiction has given her the freedom to explore truths that transcend the evidentiary rigours of the legal process.

“A thing need not be factual to be true,” says Good, who used to run a small law firm and has represented residential school survivors.

“One of the reasons people respond to this book is that it’s true, if not factual, on a very, very visceral level.”

As part of her writing process, Good says she studied hundreds of psychological assessments of survivors of childhood physical and sexual abuse to better understand how these injuries can shape a person’s trajectory.

She says this research informed how the central characters of “Five Little Indians” cope with the life-altering aftershocks of being torn away from their families and communities and forced into a system designed to “take the Indian out of the child.”

“The whole point of the book is how difficult it is to live with those impacts from the harm of walking out of those schools just burdened with psychological injury, and facing lack of support, lack of resources (and) racism,” says Good.

“It’s something that went directly to the fabric of Indigenous community and did profound damage.”

Since its 2020 publication, “Five Little Indians” has been making the rounds on the literary prize circuit, securing spots on the Giller long list and Writers’ Trust short list last fall.

Good also achieved the unusual feat of scoring three major awards nods in a single day in early May.

“Five Little Indians” won the $60,000 First Novel Award this week, is in the running for the Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize next month, and is among several heavyweight finalists for the Governor General’s Literary Awards, to be announced Tuesday.

Others vying for the $25,000 prize in the Governor General’s fiction category are Guelph, Ont.-based Thomas King for “Indians on Vacation,” from HarperCollins Canada; Halifax’s Francesca Ekwuyasi with “Butter Honey Pig Bread,” from Arsenal Pulp Press; Leanne Betasamosake Simpson for “Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies,” from House of Anansi Press; and Toronto-born Lisa Robertson for “The Baudelaire Fractal,” from Coach House Books.

Good says the awards acclaim has been “tremendously satisfying.” But most meaningful of all is the reception the book has received from residential school survivors and their families who recognize their own stories in the characters Good created, she says.

“It’s my love letter to survivors,” says Good. “I feel like that’s something I can be proud of till the day I move on.”

residential schools

Just Posted

The ‘official’ opening of 2nd Edition Coworking in downtown Fernie, a project five years in the making by the Fernie Chamber of Commerce. Left to right: Executive Director of the Fernie Chamber Brad Parsell, incoming President of the Fernie Chamber Norm Fraser, outgoing President of the Fernie Chamber Anita Palmer, and Mayor of Fernie Ange Qualizza. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Fernie Chamber cuts the ribbon on 2nd Edition

The new coworking space in Fernie is now ‘officially’ open, but has been operating since early 2021

Residents line up outside the Vernon Recreation Complex for their COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, June 5. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
No appointments necessary for first dose COVID-19 vaccine: Interior Health

People can just show up at clinics, register on the spot and get the shot

Sparwood Mayor David Wilks with the new AED SaveStation installed at the Sparwood Leisure Centre. (Contributed by District of Sparwood)
Sparwood installs public AED

The SaveStation was installed thanks to a grant from CP Rail

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday, June 10, mentioned Grand Forks among two other COVID “hot spots” in B.C. Photo: Screenshot - YouTube COVID-19 BC Update, June 10, 2021
PHO Henry says West Kootenay city is a COVID ‘hot spot’ in B.C.

There are 11 cases of COVID-19 in the Grand Forks local health area, according the BC CDC

(File)
“Gift card scam,” and “grandparent scam” are on the rise, Cranbrook RCMP say

Folks are falling for these scams: “No Government agency or reputable company will ever ask anyone to pay with gift cards in lieu of their fines”

t
How to tell if a call from ‘CRA’ is legitimate or a scam

Expert says it’s important to verify you really are dealing with the CRA before you give out any info

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 13 to 19

Flag Day, Garbage Man Day, International Panic Day all coming up this week

British Columbia-Yukon Community News Association’s 2021 Ma Murray Awards were handed out during a virtual ceremony on Friday, June 10. (Screen grab)
Black Press Media winners take gold at B.C. and Yukon journalism awards

Publications received nods in dozens of categories

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets campers while visiting McDougall, Ont. on Thursday, July 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
71% of B.C. men say they’d prefer to go camping with Trudeau: survey

Most British Columbians with plans to go camping outdoors say they’d prefer to go with Trudeau or Shania Twain

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

Chilliwack cocaine trafficker Clayton Eheler seen with a tiger somewhere in Asia in 2014. Eheler was sentenced to nine years jail in 2018, but was released on bail in October 2020 pending his appeal of conviction.(Facebook)
Director of civil forfeiture seeks $140,000 from Fraser Valley drug dealer’s father-in-law

Clayton Eheler’s father-in-law Ray Morrissey caught with money in Fort St. John by B.C.’s gang unit

A Comox Valley shellfish operator pleaded guilty and was fined $10,000 in provincial court in Courtenay earlier this year. Record file photo
B.C. clam harvester fined $10,000 for Fisheries Act violations

Charges against three others were stayed in Courtenay Provincial Court

Frank Phillips receives a visit from his wife Rena at Nanaimo Seniors Village on their 61st wedding anniversary, March 31, 2020. Social visits have been allowed since COVID-19 vaccination has been offered in all care homes. (Nanaimo News Bulletin)
B.C. prepares mandatory vaccination for senior care homes

180 more cases of COVID-19 in B.C. Friday, one more death

Most Read