Back to Red Road coverReviewed by Christine Smith (McFarlane)

“Back To The Red Road:  A Story of Survival, Redemption and Love” is a memoir co-written by authors Florence Kaefer and Edward Gamblin. It examines each author’s respective journeys to reconciliation, redemption and love after each survives the residential school era. Kaefer is a teacher during that era and Gamblin is a student.

Kaefer is just nineteen when she accepts a job as a teacher at Norway House Indian Residential School. She states that she was not fully aware of the conditions in which the children lived in at the school, but littered throughout her story are some snippets of what she remembers as a teacher at that time. How can she not be aware when she when she points out an incident of “when a little boy came back after lunch crying,” and when asking the other students what was wrong? They stated, “Mr. Plint had boxed the boy’s ears,” She further states that she confronted the teacher responsible for this child crying and the teacher paid no attention to her request to leave her children alone.

There is other evidence throughout Back to the Red Road that makes me question how Kaefer can purport to not know about the abuse the residential school children went through when she reconnects with her former student Edward Gamblin, and is not only told about the abuses he went through but as a singer he sings about it in various cds that Kaefer comes to own.

Gamblin is five years old when he enters the Norway House Indian Residential School, and though he has been out of residential school for years, you can still hear his pain as he recounts certain events to Kaefer, such as various beatings and being sexually assaulted by one of the priests at the school.

It is after Kaefer is reunited with Gamblin, hears his stories and hears other residential school survivor’s stories that she feels motivated to apologize on behalf of the school and her colleagues.

This is a heartbreaking read, and as a survivor of abuse, I found it at times to be quite triggering and difficult to digest.

Back to the Red Road: A Story of Survival, Redemption and Love is published by Caitlin Press and is 207 pages. ISBN: 13:978-1—927575-37-6