Shattered Spirits in the Land of the Little Sticks: Contextualizing the Impact of Residential School Among the Woodland Cree

By: Herman J. Michell, PhD


Shattered Spirits in the Land of the Little Sticks traces the impacts of Residential school experiences within the life of a male survivor of Woodland Cree heritage. Chapter 1 is a biographical and cultural snapshot of Dr. Michell’s personal childhood reflections and experiences ‘out on the northern landscape’ before Residential school. Chapter 2 provides a general overview of Residential schools against the backdrop of colonization in Canada. Chapter 3 and 4 are focused on Guy Hill Residential School and Dr. Michell’s experiences in this institution. Chapter 5 describes the impact of Residential school abuse at the individual level in the following four dimensions: physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional. Chapter 6 represents the lasting impact of Residential school abuse at the family and community levels.As Dr. Michell astutely notes, in Residential school, we were taught not to question, critique, or talk too much. We learned to stay silent. And we stayed silent for many generations. The time has come to move beyond this silence, disclose our hurts, grieve over our losses, heal from the pain, and embrace life.

  • ISBN: 978-1-926476-03-2
    Price: $7.00
    Binding: Paperback
    Date: 2015
    Rights: World
    Pages: 65
    Size: 6” x 9”

  • Table of Contents

    Table of Contents


    1. Life Before Residential Schools: Out on the Northern Landscape

    2. The Story of Residential Schools and Colonization

    3. Guy Hill Residential School

    4. Sexual Abuse Experiences at Guy Hill Residential School

    5. Contextualizing the Impact of Abuse at the Individual Level
    5(a). Effects on the Physical Dimension
    5(b). Effects on the Mental Dimension
    5(c). Effects on the Spiritual Dimension
    5(d). Effects on the Emotional Dimension

    6. Contextualizing the Impact of Abuse at the Family and Community Level

    About the Author

  • Herman J. Michell, PhD

    Herman J. Michell, PhD is a Member of the Barren Lands First Nation, and President & CEO of the Northern Teacher Education Program, Northern Professional Access College in La Rounge, SK.

  • Shattered Spirits in the Land of Little Sticks is an excellent read. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to learn about residential schools… Dr. Michell gives an account of the life he endured behind residential school walls as well as places his experiences within the larger context of colonization. It is an academic combined with a personal account. This is very powerful. The book provides an excellent “process” analysis of the psychological effects of abuse and the long-term consequences of residential school experience. This helps us understand the type of psychological effects we see today in residential school survivors. As a psychologist who is interested in trauma as well as Aboriginal individual and the healing aspects of the culture, I found this book to be an excellent resource. Dr. Michell places the effects of trauma within the medicine wheel framework, which really works for all of us… psychologists from all worlds.

    Mary Hampton, PhD

    Professor of Psychology
    Luther College, University of Regina

    I was moved emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally by the skillful way that Herman Michell navigates the sharing of his personal inner trauma from his residential school experiences of abuses at so many levels: sexual and cultural abuse, suppression of natural inquisitiveness, family disconnections, segregations, isolations, public humiliation, forcibly living amongst non-family within Patriarchal dominance, the pain of disclosure and recalling events – these are just some of what he shares in his story. In spite of such horrific experiences, Dr. Michell moves us to see why he is writing: to “move beyond the silence, disclose our hurts, grieve over losses, heal from the pain, and embrace life”. This indeed seems like a formidable task to carry forward. Yet he has done just this and in such meaningful ways throughout his career – though he has trouble acknowledging his own accomplishments, he is indeed an accomplished scholar who has produced Indigenous knowledge through his work and publications. Shattered Spirits in the Land of the Little Sticks is a must read – too often we neglect difficult material like this, but this book offers both scholars and the general population much: historical Cree ways; colonial frameworks and impacts; residential school atrocities, and the movement to be present as a healing gift for our futures. Michelle’s writes, “Healing is about letting go and creating new experiences that are positive and life enriching…[we] need to reconnect to the Spirit of ‘Wakhotowin’ supporting one another. Ekosani.”

    Laara Fitznor, PhD

    Associate Professor
    Faculty of Education
    University of Manitoba

    When Dr. Michell speaks of his own personal experiences… the home life he had before being apprehended and its physical and emotional distance from the horror he suffered in the name of civilizing him… he is on unshakable ground. I can only hope that his courage in speaking out about the unspeakable will inspire others to follow his example, as difficult as this will be. His contribution to the small existing literature being created by survivors of the desolation Canada created is a strong voice speaking against those who continue to deny that these things happened.

    Roland Chrisjohn, PhD

    Associate Professor
    Native Studies
    St. Thomas University

    Shattered Spirits in the Land of the Little Sticks bravely shines a light upon subjects still considered by some to be taboo including male residential school survivors’ stories of sexual abuse at the hands of other Indigenous children. Michell’s unflinching look at the history and legacy of colonization and residential schools exposes reasons why survivors of these schools cannot simply “get over it” as well as factors, such as the deficit model and stereotypes of Indigenous masculinity, that make healing more difficult. He successfully blends a storytelling tone with historic and academic literature in a way that makes this book accessible to everyone. While it can be read in a single sitting, the powerful stories herein stay with you long after you finish the book. Michell’s journey of disclosure and healing will encourage other survivors in their own healing and teach Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians about the meaning of reconciliation.

    Chantal Fiola, PhD

    Instructor, Native Studies
    University of Manitoba
    Author, Rekindling the Sacred Fire: Métis Ancestry and Anishinaabe Spirituality