Cover of Mistasinîy
Mistasinîy: Buffalo Rubbing Stone
By Mary Harelkin Bishop. DriverWorks Ink, 2016. 181 pages, $14.95
Reviewed by JoAnne Formanek Gustafson

As educators, we are challenged to include lessons and resources that will advance the work of reconciliation between Canada and Indigenous people. This novel provides many opportunities to engage our students in discussion about Canada’s history with Indigenous  people and to reflect on our own roles.

The story begins with sixth-graders Danny and Zach being partnered to do a social studies project about the origins of their families. Both boys struggle with being partnered with the other. Danny recalls being bullied by Zach in Grade 3 and Zach is equally hesitant; since his Cree friends moved to the city he feels isolated and alone.

Zach becomes furious when their teacher frames the project on the assumption that all students’ families are “settlers.” Doesn’t Mr.Gibson realize that Zach is First Nations? Danny quickly realizes the reason for Zach’s anger and helps his teacher understand the problem, thus gaining Zach’s trust.

The climax of the story comes when Danny discovers that a huge stone on his family’s farm is the missing mistasinîy (buffalo rubbing stone) that Zach’s family had lost. Danny enlists his family’s help to return the stone, forging a respectful relationship between the families.

Suitable for junior or intermediate classrooms, Mistasinîy: Buffalo Rubbing Stone introduces the idea that settler history, which has been the focus of Canadian history education, neglects the perspectives of Indigenous peoples. The characters in the book model empathy and compassion, creating opportunities for our students to imagine how they can respond to current issues Indigenous people face. Used as a novel study or read-aloud the book will allow your students to explore issues concerning colonization and the effects of government policies on Indigenous people. Curriculum connections include Grade 6 Social Studies (perspectives of First Nations people) and Grade 8 History (impacts of colonization on First Nations people and new immigrants), as well as reading and literacy connections. Mistasinîy: Buffalo Rubbing Stone presents the issues in terms that students can easily understand and relate to.

JoAnne Formanek Gustafson is a member of the Rainy River Occasional Teacher Local.


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