The Time We Spent Apart: An IRJE for Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

Five Little Indians is a fictional novel by Michelle Good, an Indigenous author. The novel is a story about five Indigenous young adults- Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Maisie, and Howie- who have left or completed Residential School and are trying to adjust to the real world. Kenny escaped from the Mission (the book’s name for the Residential School that all five children attended) by boat a few years before he was scheduled to leave and was able to find his mother. Although the mother and son were ecstatic to finally reunite after being apart for so long, after a couple of months Kenny started to notice that his mother, Bella, had changed over the years while Kenny was away:

Bella started spending less time at the smokehouse, more time at the kitchen table, smoking and gazing out the window. Sometimes she wouldn’t even hear Kenny when he came in from a day on wandering. He would slip into the chair beside her and marvel at the two-inch ash at the end of her smoke.

“Mom?” Kenny said, moving the tray under her precarious ash.

“What’s wrong, Mom?”

Her eyes looked as though she was rising from some perilous place deep inside her. “Oh, don’t worry boy. Everything’s okay.” She stubbed the already-dead cigarette in the ashtray and instinctively wiped her hands on her apron. “Are you ready for lunch?”

“Mom, it’s suppertime.”

His mother looked out the window at the changing afternoon light. “Well, so it is. Go wash up. I’ll cook.” (pp.23-24)

Just like Kenny had changed during his time at the Mission, his mother had changed as well. While her child was being stripped of his culture, identity, and freedom, she was suffering from the sudden loss of her son and was coping with her sorrow through cigarettes (and alcohol). Before I’d started reading Five Little Indians, all I really knew about Residential Schools was what the children had went though at the ‘schools’. I’d never taken the time to consider what the parents of those children must have gone though as well- having your child taken from you without your consent or without you knowing what was going to happen to them must have been terrifying and heartbreaking.


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