About the Book
A new commemorative edition of Theodore Fontaine’s powerful, groundbreaking memoir of survival and healing after years of residential school abuse.
Originally published in 2010, Broken Circle: The Dark Legacy of Indian Residential Schools chronicles the impact of Theodore Fontaine’s harrowing experiences at Fort Alexander and Assiniboia Indian Residential Schools, including psychological, emotional, and sexual abuse; disconnection from his language and culture; and the loss of his family and community. Told as remembrances infused with insights gained through his long healing process, Fontaine goes beyond the details of the abuse that he suffered to relate a unique understanding of why most residential school survivors have post-traumatic stress disorders and why succeeding generations of Indigenous children suffer from this dark chapter in history. With a new foreword by Andrew Woolford, professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Manitoba, this commemorative edition will continue to serve as a powerful testament to survival, self-discovery, and healing.
About the Author(s)
Theodore Niizhotay Fontaine (1941–2021) was a member and former chief of the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba. He attended the Fort Alexander and Assiniboia Indian Residential Schools from 1948 to 1960. As a youth, he played senior hockey across Western Canada before moving north to direct a mineral exploration crew in the Northwest Territories, a formative experience that set him on a lifelong path toward self-discovery and healing. Theodore graduated in civil engineering from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in 1973 and went on to work extensively in the corporate, government and First Nations sectors, including eleven years with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs as an advisor and executive director. He served in leadership and voluntary roles with organizations such as the Banff Centre for Management, Peace Hills Trust, the Indigenous Leadership Development Institute, the Manitoba Museum, the Victorian Order of Nurses, and Palliative Manitoba. Theodore was a regular speaker and media commentator on residential schools and presented his bestselling memoir, Broken Circle: The Dark Legacy of Indian Residential Schools, to more than 1,600 audiences in Canada and the United States. He broke new ground by supporting other survivors and by seeking reconciliation directly with those who were perpetrators of his abuse.
“Thousands of Indian Residential School Survivors came before our Truth and Reconciliation Commission with no intention of talking about childhoods they wanted to forget. Courage on display changed their minds. Ted Fontaine helped them along with Broken Circle, his inspirational journey from a tsunami of anger and grief to reclaimed pride and hope for future generations.”
—Marie Wilson, Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2009–2015
“I was impressed and moved by the late Theodore Fontaine’s insights and the knowledge he so eloquently outlines in his memoir. The internal psychodynamics planted into the spirit and soul through the residential school system are often difficult to identify and eradicate. Few people have the fearless courage to dive in deeply and examine these detrimental assaults that can control the path toward healthy healing. And yet, this is what the late Theodore Fontaine does.
He is truly an example and a gift to many. I strongly advise people to follow this fearless leap of faith. If one confronts the darkness, they too will experience a richer life with self and with others. This planet, our community and the larger world needs to embark on this journey: it will revive Love, Respect, Kindness, Sharing, Trust, Faith and Humility. I wish I had been so blessed and fortunate to have had the privilege of sharing these discussions with him.”
—Louise Bernice Halfe - Sky Dancer, Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate and author of Burning in this Midnight Dream
“Theodore Niizhotay Fontaine’s clarity, candour, courage, and grace shine through Broken Circle, truly a memoir for our time. Here is the voice of a beloved Elder who takes his child-self by the hand and allows us all to witness firsthand the atrocities of Canada’s Indian Residential School system. You will be awed by his strength, moved by his insight, and forever changed by his generosity and spirit.”
—Charlene Diehl, Director, Winnipeg International Writers Festival
"Broken Circle is a life story of Mr. Fontaine and he said it like it was; 'his personal story affirms the tragedy that occurred during this era and the impacts it has on our Indigenous people today'. Mr. Fontaine's humbleness and care for his people was remarkable and no words will ever express what he meant to his people on Turtle Island."
—Chief Derrick Henderson, Sagkeeng First Nation
“Masterful writing by a brother who is a gifted storyteller. Theodore Fontaine recounts his life in a voice that is at once enlightening and healing, by virtue of its elegant simplicity, beauty and compassion. The world needs more of your work, Theodore!”
—Darrel J. McLeod, Governor General's Award–winning author of Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age, and Peyakow: Reclaiming Cree Dignity
“Theodore Fontaine has written a testimony that should be mandatory reading for everyone out there who has ever wondered, 'Why can’t Aboriginal people just get over Residential Schools?' Mr. Fontaine’s life story is filled with astonishing and brutal chapters, but, through it all, time, healing, crying, writing, friends and family, and love—sweet love—have all graced their way into the man, father, son, brother, husband, and child of wonder Theodore has always deserved to be. What a humbling work to read. I’m grateful he wrote it and had the courage to share it. Mahsi cho."
—Richard Van Camp, Tłįchǫ author of The Lesser Blessed and Moccasin Square Gardens
“A poignant glimpse into the day-to-day horror of life in an Indian residential school, and the power of love to tame the demons that torment those who were incarcerated in them. A must-read for anyone responsible for advancing reconciliation, meaning every single Canadian, whether Indigenous or non-Indigenous, whether born here or elsewhere. “
—Suzanne Carrière, Canada’s first Métis Citizenship Judge
“Theodore Fontaine worked tirelessly to lead Canadians on a pathway to reconciliation, and this devastating, vitally important, memoir now stands as a documentation of his courage. These pages are filled with truth we cannot look away from, and in that truth, ultimately, a way to mend the brokenness.
—David A. Robertson, author of Black Water: Family, Legacy, and Blood Memory
"Theodore shared with us his most painful experiences that are heartbreaking, but I am so grateful that he was so generous with what had to be so hurtful for him. His family call him a residential school Victor and I also want to add that he was a Healer, a Leader and a Visionary, who, through his truth in Broken Circle, has led the way to reconciliation for many people."
—Rosa Walker, President and CEO, Indigenous Leadership Development Institute, Inc.
“For over a decade I have assigned Broken Circle to teach the history of residential schools. Not only does it document the individual and intergenerational trauma that began when Canada made Indigenous children the target of its colonialism, Fontaine’s visceral, honest voice offers a path to healing that combines justice, forgiveness and truth-telling.”
—Tarah Brookfield, Associate Professor, History and Youth and Children's Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University
“This powerful story not only touches the heart, it acts as a teaching resource on the history of residential schools, provides a triumphant example of resiliency, and is a guide to healing the spirit and to going beyond yourself and giving voice for all those not afforded that opportunity. Theodore Fontaine's teachings in Broken Circle have and will continue to inform classrooms for generations to come.”
—Mitch Bourbonniere, MSW, MSM, MB, OM, CMHW (C/A) award-winning social worker, educator and community builder
“I have witnessed the powerful way that high school students from across Canada connect with Theodore Niizhotay Fontaine’s memoir, Broken Circle. Through his life story, Fontaine invites young people to face the truth about Canada’s past. His writing inspires us all to not only confront the past, but to work to bring about the changes that are so desperately needed today.”
—Leora Schaefer, Executive Director, Facing History and Ourselves Canada
“This book is essential reading for all Canadians. Theodore Fontaine’s willingness to share his very personal experiences through residential school and beyond provides such an opportunity for learning, understanding and growth. Theodore continues to be a guiding light, with his exceptional ability to educate the travesties of the past, while offering a pathway to healing. He was truly a gifted individual.”
—Christy Dzikowicz, Executive Director for the Toba Centre for Children and Youth
“Theo Fontaine’s book is beautifully written, disturbing and yet hopeful. Theo and I went through terrible experiences which were different and yet had many communalities. By exposing the guilty parties he makes us aware of our communal responsibility to create a climate of restitution and healing for the Indigenous peoples.
Theo and I participated in a number of events and we resolved to direct our past experiences, our anger and our remaining energies towards mutual understanding and mutual acceptance of each other in a peaceful and lawful world devoid of hatred, discrimination and antisemitism.”
—Nathan Leipciger, Holocaust educator, public speaker and author of The Weight of Freedom
“Broken Circle weaves a powerful story about one person’s experience in Residential School and is essential reading for all those who want to play an active role in reconciling our past and future. Reading about Ted’s journey will compel you to think about the impact of Residential Schools and consider the role that we as individuals must play in ensuring it never happens again.
A walk of pain, trauma, endurance and resilience, Broken Circle shows us that while the damage inflicted on us as children shapes us, it does not have to define us. Ted bravely shows us there is hope and that he is not a residential school ‘Survivor,’ but rather a ‘Victor.' Ted’s contribution and love for his community, this country and the Reconciliation dialogue are immeasurable. A Victor indeed. “
—Jennefer Nepinak, Associate Vice-President, University of Winnipeg
“Theodore Fontaine shares his journey with generosity, humility and raw (and often devastating) transparency. Fontaine’s pre-internment memories of a childhood steeped in tradition, connection and joy are recalled alongside the profound loss and trauma suffered through imprisonment at residential school. In generously sharing his story of loss, indomitability and healing, Ted has provided an invaluable gift—Broken Circle is a testimony that must be read and re-read.”
—Dr. Carlos D. Colorado, professor and filmmaker