In the 1800s the Canadian government decided that the British Way of life was superior to any of the other First Nations way of life in Canada. So they believed that speaking English, being Christian and farming; very different from all the different first nations’ cultures in Canada but they decided that their way was better and because of that they had the right to force other people who didn’t agree to that way of life and so their plan to do that was through the children, first nation’s children. They brought these First Nations children into residential schools. However, the worst things happened at those schools and the children would not be allowed to have contact with their parents often for ten months of the year and they were forcibly removed if the parents would not send their child there. So the Canadian government and authorities would coarse first Nations parents to do this or some of it was outright force, later on in Confederation there was a financial bonus that was offered to families with children. It was designed to basically remove the First Nations culture from the child and install the British Agricultural Christian culture. Back then it was said that it was designed to kill the Indian inside the child that was the terminology they used (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996). There were things that were supposed to happen in the residential schools, and those were bad enough but then there were things that ended up happening that were not supposed to happen. There were things that were part of the government’s plan such as severe punishment for speaking first nation’s traditional language because culture and language are intertwined, so by killing the language they were erasing the culture. Children were punished for speaking their own language severely and punished for trying to get home, wanting to be with their families; and this was physical beatings for using language. These young children were taken away for ten months, prevented from speaking their own language and then they go back home for the summer and home doesn’t feel like home anymore because now they’ve been twisted into a different person. So they didn’t feel like they belong in the residential schools because they were told that they weren’t the way they should be but then to go home for two months and you’ve lost touch with your language and your culture and you can’t even fit in. If they had siblings ate the same residential school, they were separated from their siblings as a way of erasing who the children were and install something new. There was also of a large amount of physical and sexual abuse that happened there because the locations were mostly remote and far from home; the removal of culture would be traumatic enough for mental health but then the physical and sexual abuse that happened because the children were vulnerable people with no protection. There was an incredibly high mortality rate, children died very often at these schools in part because the schools were government funded and the more children school had in it the more money they could get and so what would happen would be they would pack these schools with children with tuberculosis to up the numbers and then it would spread. One school had a mortality rate of 60%; so six out of ten children that went there died. There weren’t just beatings, cruel and unusual punishments like the electric chair were used so yes there was high death rates and even though the schools had funding, they didn’t receive enough so the children were pressed into manual labor that were disguised as artisan training (Canadian Residential school propaganda 1955). The Canadian government has since acknowledged what happened, they apologized for it. It’s just that although this is a necessary step, it seems so inadequate because there continues to be more findings on the inhumane things that happened in the residential schools so there is still a huge amount of healing to be done. This paper explores Indian Residential School system on a basis of intergenerational trauma and its effects on Indigenous health, families and communities.
Impacts of Intergenerational Trauma
Researchers have found that intergenerational trauma is affecting the well-being of Canada’s Aboriginal people. Having a history of residential school attendance in a family had been discovered to be linked with others sources of stress to diminish the well-being of the aboriginal population. If several generations within a family had attended the residential schools, the stresses could have accumulated into an intergenerational trauma. This paper draws from peer-reviewed works and findings to provide support for historical trauma and also analyse the impacts that vicious and sustained maltreatment of the Aboriginal people have had on generations of indigenous people which when combined with contemporary stressors, jeopardizes the individual and community well-being.
Aboriginal health is one way by which intergenerational trauma has become evident; when one generation experiences trauma, this trauma can be passed on to subsequent generations. Evans-Campbell correlates intergenerational trauma with diagnosable illnesses; physiological, psychological, and emotional illnesses suffered by the descendants of the survivors of trauma (Evans-Campbell, 2008). The mind and mental health of North America’s Aboriginal peoples may be linked to the sustained assaults since the colonizers set foot on this continent, the traumatic events which Aboriginal peoples continually endure may worsen mental health and thereby transform their identities and communities (Kirmayer, Brass, & Tait, 2000). Aboriginal groups have health issues that are disproportionate to other ethnic groups within North America. This disproportionality may be due to “historical trauma” stemming from accumulated trauma that started in the past but are today negatively affecting the health and social interactions among today’s Aboriginal peoples (Brave Heart ; DeBruyn, 1998). Although there is limited empirical research to support this assertion, Evans-Campbell (2008) buttresses the assertion by postulating identifiable characteristics of events of historical trauma. These characteristics include a population widely suffering from the effects of horrific and destructive events perpetrated by another foreign population thereby causing collective harm in the victimized population. The historical events of trauma then continues on to the present population of the victimized group, the effects of the events accumulates across generations and responses to the events affect well-being.
The cruel attempt to forcefully assimilate Indigenous children into western Culture as explained in the introduction above, created historical trauma and did untold harm to the survivors of the school but also traumatized the offspring of these survivors. Empirically, Residential school survivors have been found to be more likely to have health problems; mental and physical compared to Aboriginal people who did not attend those schools (First Nations Centre, 2005). The offspring of Residential school survivors are consequently are even at greater health risk. Bombay et al., (2014), gives an insight into empirical evidence of intergenerational trauma caused by the residential school. Through their research, they found that survivors experienced trauma and this extended the distress into communities. The authors studied communities on and off reserves, analyzed national data from the First Nations Regional Longitudinal Health Survey and the Aboriginal Peoples Survey and found that there was relation between Residential schools and mental and or physical illnesses stemming from trauma. Survivors, their offspring, families and their communities appear to be at greater risk of diseases than their non-Aboriginal peers and even Aboriginal people who did not attend residential schools. Empirically, their paper reports that 37.2% of adults who had at least one residential school survivor as parent thought of committing suicide compared to 25.7% of those whose parents did not attend residential schools (Bombay et al., 2014). 20.4% of adults who had at least one grandparent who was a residential school survivor had tried committing suicide compared to 13.1% who did not have any grandparent that attended residential schools. This shows that there is a correlation between the residential schools and suicide attempts or rates in Aboriginal communities. Suicidal thoughts and attempts are found to be higher among people whose parents or grandparents attended residential schools, this group also disproportionately suffers from depression (Bombay et al., 2014). Among the youth population, 26.3% of Aboriginal youth whose parent attended residential schools had thought about suicide in a 2002-2003 survey compared to 18.0% in youth who had no residential school survivor as parents or grandparents. 31.4% of Aboriginal youth living on-reserve and have parents or grandparents who attended residential schools suffer from depression compared whereas only 20.4% of youth with no parent that attended Residential school suffered depression (Bombay et al., 2014).
These affected youth in addition to mental illness are also more likely to do poorly academically; 48.7% of youth whose parents attended residential school had learning difficulties compared to 40.4% of those who parents did not attend. 47.3% of youth whose parent attended residential school had repeated a grade, compared to 35.2% of those youth whose parents never attended residential school. Aboriginal children, aged 6-14 living off reserve are more likely fail at school if they had at least a parent who attended residential school. Aboriginal youth drug users aged, 14-30 who use drugs and are at greater risk of contracting Hepatitis C had at least a pent who attended residential school (Bombay et al., 2014).
Also, stress has been found to be transferred unto children from parents who attended residential schools. This intergenerational stress may have occurred pari passu social disadvantages and unhealthy parental behaviours. Off-reserve Aboriginal children whose parents attended residential school were more likely to grow up in large, poor households and underfed (Bougie ; Senecal, 2010). Parents who attended residential schools are more likely to have lower income; this may be due to poor mental/physical wellbeing and academic deficiencies thus leading to academic distress in their children. Residential school survivors are more likely to lack good parenting skills and thus pass down the negative parenting practices down to their children. The children are more likely to experience physical and sexual abuse since their parents were victims of such abuses while they attended residential school (Evans-Campbell, 2008).
The reviewed sources analyzed evidences of intergenerational trauma in Aboriginal individuals and communities. They found direct and consistent link between residential school and mental/physical wellbeing of Aboriginal population in Canada. The intergeneration trauma stems from events which occurred in the past and thus affect present generation of Aboriginal adults and youth. The intergenerational nature of the trauma leads to mental health issues, poor academic performance, unhealthy households and relationships, and damaged communities. Aboriginal peoples who had parents or grandparents who attended residential schools are more likely to be depressed and suffer from mental health issues. These people are also at greater risk of physical and sexual abuse, they are also more likely to contemplate and even commit suicide compared to Aboriginal people who neither attended nor have parents or grandparents who attended. Trauma is passed unto the offspring and communities of residential school survivors who have suffered from historical trauma events. Having examined these sources and empirical data, it is impossible to not see the correlation between the traumatic experiences that Indigenous peoples of Canada have continuously endured since the colonizers arrived in North America. The sample sizes used in the surveys are small and representative of only a small portion of the Indigenous population, therefore it is difficult to make up conclusions that apply to the broader population. There is a possibility of making a casual ascription to the effect of other past traumas. Although there may be biases due to lack of sufficient data, evidence shows that such biases do not affect the fact that Aboriginal people are disproportionately incarcerated in the criminal system and very well disadvantaged socially in western contexts. A people so traumatized may result to alcohol and drug abuse when the healthcare system in Canada is not sufficiently poised to address the root of the problems which lead people to negatively stereotype First Nation’s people.
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