Summary: Attending a residential school in Buffalo Bay from ages nine to thirteen, Lawrence learns to make himself small and is ‘encouraged’ to forsake his Cree heritage. Fortunately not all of the adults in his life abuse their power, and one Sister helps foster in him a love of read, writing and learning. When he gets out of school at last, Lawrence is plunged into an adult world, taking whatever job opportunities come along. As he begins to see more of Canada and proves himself as a valuable worker, his desire to travel expands and he dreams of future opportunities and journeys.
Number of Pages: 141
Age Range: 11-13
Review: A more gentle look at the residential schools than other reads on the same topic, Goodbye Buffalo Bay by Larry Loyie follows Lawrence, a thirteen year-old aged into maturity by his time away from home. Taught to mistrust adults and forget the ways of his people, the Cree, finishing school means going back to a life that is now alien to him. Unlike most children in the school, Lawrence hangs on to the Cree language he learned from birth so is still able to communicate with his relatives, meaning he hasn’t lost everything, but trying in some way to regain what has been lost will take time.
Instead, Lawrence finds himself needing to work, and taking any job available. He shows his value despite his size and age with strength and determination, and re-learns some of the lost ways of his people.
But it’s also a story about emerging from horrible events in your life. After growing up in an unsafe environment at risk for physical and emotional abuse, Lawrence needs time to adjust to regular life, and normal life events like girls falling for him take him by surprise. Work and skating provide a focus while he finds himself, and the respite gives Lawrence the chance to work up the courage to dream again.
While Lawrence’s journey was informative, I felt like I learned the most from note at the end of the book, which laid out the bare facts of the development of residential schools in Canada, all the way up to their end and Prime Minister Harper’s public apology for them in 2008. Loyie’s story is a piece of our history that we should never forget so we do not repeat it.
“Nothing would ever be the same again he was convinced. He was too afraid to talk to older people anymore. After so many years in the residential school, he wasn’t used to it. He never spoke to anyone at the Mission except the workers. And only some of them, like Barney Bottle, were kind and helpful.
Lawrence was invisible, like The Phantom. No one seemed to know him anymore.” – Lawrence from Goodbye Buffalo Bay by Larry Loyie with Constance Brissenden, page 71