When We Were Alone

As part of our societal wellness, we need to share the truth about our histories. Many educators, unaware of the history of American Indian Boarding schools, feel pressured to know everything before teaching their students. However, it's okay to not have all the answers and to co-create knowledge with students. This book is a treasure. When I read it aloud recently, to my students who were already informed about the boarding schools, they were deeply moved by the author's poignant storytelling, responding with heartfelt applause.

Social Justice Activities:

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