Latest book tells true story of life at residential schools

Larry Loyie and Vera Manuel have co-authored a book telling about lives in residential schools.

Chris Clegg

Award-winning Cree author Larry Loyie continues to leave a legacy after publishing another book posthumously honouring the fearless voices of residential school survivors.

Two Plays About Residential School is edited by his long-time partner, Constance Brissenden. Loyie [1933-2016] is well-known for his work on Cree writings. It is 120 pages long and includes two full-length plays, author notes, production notes, and photo credits.

The history of how the book came to be goes back 20 years. In the early 1990s, two Indigenous authors wrote about their experiences at residential schools. Ora Pro Nobis, Pray for Us by Loyie, and The Strength of Indian Women by Vera Manuel, were staged a decade before Canada apologized for the residential school system, and 15 years before Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“These plays shook audiences with the truth about residential schools,” says Brissenden. “Larry Loyie and Vera Manuel courageously tackled a hidden history. Most Canadians didn’t know about residential schools. Others questioned their negative effects.”

With honesty, and often humour, as Loyie and Manuel, from British Columbia, deliver in their own special way, the authors reinforce the voices of survivors.

“Two Plays About Residential School is essential reading along the path of truth and reconciliation,” says publisher Jeff Burnham, founder of Indigenous Education Press.

Loyie spent six years at St. Bernard Mission residential school in Grouard. His award-winning books include the national history Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors, and two children’s books on the subject: As Long as the Rivers Flow, and its sequel Goodbye Buffalo Bay.

In Ora Pro Nobis, Pray for Us, the lively friendship of a group of boys help them survive their residential school years. In Loyie’s introduction to the play, he writes, “For Indigenous people, writing helps others understand who we are and what we went through. It’s a way to share our traditions and our healing journeys.”

There are few better than Loyie to speak and write on the subject. Loyie spent more than two decades talking to students about residential school history, giving more than 1,600 presentations.

In Manuel’s Strength of Indian Women, four Elders prepare for a teenaged girl’s coming-of-age feast. As they work together, the women reveal the secrets of their residential school years.

Both of Manuel’s parents, political leader George Manuel, and spiritual leader Marceline Manuel, attended residential schools. Manuel, a poet, performer and healer, directly experienced the fallout.

“I mourned that little girl who never had a childhood,” she writes in her introduction. “I mourn the mother missing from my childhood, and I gave thanks for the mother who became my loving teacher in adulthood.”

Compassion, humour, and hope mark Two Plays About Residential School and the works of Loyie and Manuel. The anthology is a must for all readers, for teachers, libraries, and collections.

Two Plays About Residential School is available from Indigenous Education Press at For $19.95.


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