Why I have chosen to discuss the Intergeneration Trauma caused by centuries of colonization and forced assimilation through residential schooling as well as why every Canadian needs to know the real history. My interest in this topic is deeply personal; I have had occasion to observe the devastating effects first-hand, although due to my limited education on the topic I did not understand what I was observing until much later in life. In my personal life, I witnessed what I would now identify as intergenerational trauma’s impact on my half-brother.
His father, an Indigenous man and survivor of a residential school, was incarcerated for perpetrating crimes that undoubtedly stemmed from his own experiences within the Residential Schooling system. From that point on my brother struggled with a myriad of issues throughout his childhood and into his early adult life.
He often expressed pain and anger about not knowing his father and not understanding his own heritage and identity. His feelings of being “lost” undoubtedly contributed to his fierce battle with addictions which ended in him taking his own life at twenty-one.
Early in my professional life, I again witnessed intergenerational trauma in the work I did one-to-one with Indigenous youth who has been placed in foster care. What I didn’t realize, at the time, was that my efforts to be part of the solution were in fact helping feed into the very cycle I was trying to help them get out of. This illustrates one of the many reasons why all Canadians need to be educated about the real history of residential schooling, if not the entire history of colonialism in North America as well as Indigenous cultural history.
While the past can never be undone healing can happen.
Healing and reconciliation cannot begin until the truth about the impacts of cultural assimilation attempts such as residential schooling, and the intergenerational trauma that resulted from those attempts is publicly acknowledged and universally understood. It is impossible to have a discourse about residential schooling without simultaneously addressing cultural assimilation since that is the very basis for residential schooling. Likewise, no discussion on residential schooling would be complete without also discussing intergenerational trauma and its continued impacts on indigenous peoples and their cultures. The impacts of cultural assimilation, particularly residential schooling, are wide-ranging and pervasive. Loss of language, cultural identity, and family and community bonds are just a few of the myriad of long-term impacts plaguing not only survivors but generations that followed.