IN MEMORIAM: Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton

Toronto — It is with deep sadness that Annick has learned of the passing of author, Inuvialiut knowledge keeper, and residential
school survivor Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton. She was 84 years old. Young readers all over the world have been introduced to the harsh reality of residential schools through her books with co-author Christy Jordan-Fenton: Fatty Legs: A True Story, A Stranger At Home, When I Was Eight, and Not My Girl. Margaret-Olemaun met with thousands of school children to share her experiences and to share her message of hope and survival so that future generations would understand the devastating legacy of the schools.

Going only by the name Margaret upon the original publication of her stories, she would deepen her connection with her birth name, Olemaun, over the course of her later years. By the publication of the tenth anniversary edition of Fatty Legs, she began going by Olemaun again. Her life’s story, published two years before the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began, would prove to be among the first of scores of heart-rending stories from fellow survivors. Margaret-Olemaun’s bravery was commemorated in the song “Say Your Name” by Native American Music Hall of Fame Inductee Keith Secola.

Speaking with Shelagh Rogers on CBC’s The Next Chapter in 2020, Margaret-Olemaun said, “I would tell stories because I wanted my grandkids to know about life up North. . . . When I got to [residential] school, I didn’t see [my parents] for two years, and I completely forgot my language, the food, and everything. When I got back, it was hard because my mother couldn’t speak English.”

“I wanted my children to have no bigger hero than their grandmother,” said Christy Jordan-Fenton, who, besides co-authoring Margaret’s books, is also mother to Margaret’s grandchildren. “Being raised in a traditional way taught [Margaret-Olemaun] to be her own hero.”

Margaret’s strength was something she passed on to her audience of all ages: “When we do school visits the children have a clear mind, and it’s beautiful to see.”

“Perhaps there is no greater accomplishment in life than to have opened minds and hearts to the human experience. Margaret’s stories, rooted in agency and resiliency, have had an impact on countless people. When youth learn about residential schools it is through Margaret’s eyes. She continues to be a hero and an inspiration by fostering awareness through testimony,” said Rick Wilks, Annick Co-publisher.

We are grateful for her heroism and bravery in telling her story, and we are proud to have worked with her.

MORE ABOUT FATTY LEGS

First published in 2010, Fatty Legs is the story of Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton’s experience as an Inuvialuit girl at residential school and was among the first children’s books from a survivor of Canada’s Indian Residential School System. The book, its sequel A Stranger At Home, and young reader editions When I Was Eight and Not My Girl, have sold more than a quarter of a million copies. Together, they have collected over 20 awards and distinctions, including a First Nation Communities Read selection; an USBBY Outstanding International Books Honor List selection; the White Ravens Collection, International Youth Library, Munich; and a Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Best Books for Kids & Teens list selection. Margaret-Olemaun and her co-author Christy Jordan-Fenton toured Canada, making over 100 school and library visits yearly, and traveling internationally to the United States and Cuba.

  • Watch Christy Jordan Fenton read a chapter from Fatty Legs, 10th Anniversary Edition.

  • Watch Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton’s appearance at the Vancouver Writers Festival in October 2020.

MORE ABOUT ANNICK PRESS

Annick Press publishes books that aim to spark a lifelong love of reading and challenge kids to think critically about the world around them. Founded in 1975, Annick is home to many award-winning and beloved children’s books including The Paper Bag Princess, Red Is Best, Fatty Legs, and #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women. Learn more about Annick at www.annickpress.com.