When We Were Alone

As part of our societal wellness, we need to share the truth about our histories. Many of us were not taught the history of the American Indian Boarding schools and I think as Educators we have the false impression that we need to know everything and then give it to our students. We don't. It's okay to not know and to co-create knowledge with your students. This book is a treasure. I read this book out loud to my students recently and when I finished they all clapped. We had already learned about the American Indian Boarding Schools and I think hearing how beautifully the author was able to tell such a heart wrenching story just touched them so much.
-Dena

Social Justice Activities:

  1. Research the Indigenous lands your school is on. Research the website of your local tribe and build relationships.

  2. Reframe, "Westward Expansion," and teach from the perspective of the Invasion of America.

  3. Research your local treaties, their history and how the treaty is binding today.

  4. Use Native 360's resources to develop lessons on American Indian Removal.

Relevant Social Justice Standards:

Identity 3. Students will recognize that people’s multiple identities interact and create unique and complex individuals.

Identity 5. Students will recognize traits of the dominant culture, their home culture and other cultures and understand how they negotiate their own identity in multiple spaces.


Diversity 8. Students will respectfully express curiosity about the history and lived experiences of others and will exchange ideas and beliefs in an open-minded way.

Diversity 9. Students will respond to diversity by building empathy, respect, understanding and connection.

Diversity 10. Students will examine diversity in social, cultural, political and historical contexts rather than in ways that are superficial or oversimplified.


Justice 12. Students will recognize unfairness on the individual level (e.g., biased speech) and injustice at the institutional or systemic level (e.g., discrimination).

Justice 13. Students will analyze the harmful impact of bias and injustice on the world, historically and today.

Justice 14. Students will recognize that power and privilege influence relationships on interpersonal, intergroup and institutional levels and consider how they have been affected by those dynamics.


Action 16. Students will express empathy when people are excluded or mistreated because of their identities and concern when they themselves experience bias.

Action 17. Students will recognize their own responsibility to stand up to exclusion, prejudice and injustice.

Action 20. Students will plan and carry out collective action against bias and injustice in the world and will evaluate what strategies are most effective.

Reading Strategies:

Cause and Effect, Character Motivation, Character Analysis: The text describes a conversation between a Cree granddaughter and grandmother. In this conversation, the grandmother explains how her childhood experience in a Residential Boarding School affects some of her behaviors today.

Figurative Language: On the pages where she describes her childhood, there are many similes: mixed together like storm clouds; strands of hair mixed together on the ground like blades of dead grass; blended together like a flock of crows; separated like day and night.

Book Details:
  • Fiction, All Ages
  • Perspectives: Cree Tribe
  • Author's stated heritage: Swampy Cree
  • Subject Integration: History

Cree Pronunciation Guide

Learn to pronounce the Cree words in this book.

Teaching Difficult History

Listen to the author and a First Grade Teacher describe how we can teach difficult truths in our history.


Book covers images are from publishers and in the public domain