Literature Guide for Debby Dahl Edwardson’s “My Name is Not Easy”

Literature Guide for Debby Dahl Edwardson’s My Name is Not Easy

Download literary guide for Debby Dahl Edwardson’s My Name is Not Easy

Told from multiple perspectives, Debby Dahl Edwardson’s My Name is Not Easy is a narrative of the hard, culture-crippling truths of the boarding schools that native Alaskans attended during the early 1960’s. The characters in Edwardson’s story attend the fictional Sacred Heart School, a Catholic institution whose structure and methodology is fierce, brutal, and deeply rooted in the idea that native students needed to be re-trained in order for their communities to succeed. The characters are fictional, but just like their school, they each present carefully designed portraits of “typical” students at such schools, and their experiences give literary life to the real life experiences of unnamed others.

The students at Sacred Heart have been sent there from villages all over Alaska, and while each one’s story of why they’ve wound up there varies, each native Alaskan student’s story shares the same undercurrent: their presence at the school forces them to let go of their language, their landscape, and their people, and it is assumed by those in charge that this is necessary in order for native Alaskans to survive. On top of the clashes between students from self-identified Eskimo villages and Indian villages are emotional and physical abuse from school staff, forced consumption of radiation-filled iodine for government testing, and the adopting out of students not deemed appropriate for school life. 

Despite the violence and fear that plagues life at Sacred Heart, each narrator teaches readers about the culture and landscape that they call home. Descriptions of hunting practices, traditional foods, ways of thinking, and other aspects of local and native culture add depth to each character and contrast heavily with life at Sacred Heart – giving readers an even deeper understanding of the effects of the school culture on its student body.

My Name is Not Easy is appropriate for mature tweens and teens, as it addresses complex themes and includes some violence. Readers should approach the book with some knowledge of the history of Native American boarding schools in the United States. (See “Resources for Further Learning” for suggestions.) The book can be used in a study of Native American history, an exploration of anti-Native policies during the 20th century, or as a lens through which to explore cultural change and power dynamics. Educators of all kinds can use our accompanying literature guide to facilitate meaningful discussion about the story, initiate activities to explore major themes, and discover resources for learning about the truths found in the book’s pages.

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