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Intergenerational Trauma

by INDG,

What does John A. Macdonald have to do with intergenerational trauma, you may ask but the reality is he had a big part in the effects of what Indigenous people today are going through.

For those of you who don't know, intergenerational trauma is defined as trauma that is passed on from one generation to the next. While residential schools were not the start of intergenerational trauma, they play a large part in what is felt today.

My parents are residential school survivors, as were their parents and their parents before them as well. I've heard intense stories of abuse suffered by my parents and grandparents at the hands of priests and nuns at these institutions. My grandmother used to be fluent in her traditional language, which is Cree, but it was literally beat out of her at residential schools. If she spoke anything that wasn't English or French, she was hit or abused in some way either mentally or physically. The culture that is shared between many Indigenous people, was ripped away and many Indigenous people today will never know their culture or practices.

Residential schools were created in the late 1800s but were made mandatory in 1920, meaning Indigenous children were physically taken from their homes with their parents and put into these strange environments. If they did their traditional ceremonies, they were beat. I'd like you to imagine that for a second: Your child is taken away from you and when they try to pray to come back home, they are beaten and told that their God is not the right God and are forced to adhere to a different religion.

That is the reality many Indigenous people faced.

Physical abuse eventually stopped in residential schools, but what happened when these abused children became parents? My personal story isn't unique as a lot of Indigenous people have felt the same thing I'm going to explain. My grandparents on my mom's side did not know how to properly discipline their six children as they themselves had been beaten if they stepped out of line. My mother and father were both hit in their respective homes if they ever behaved badly, my mom told me that sometimes she was beaten just for looking at my grandmother the wrong way. My dad didn't attend residential school for his entire life, but he did for a portion of his life until he ran away from the school when he was a teenager. My mom has a similar story.

My parents promised themselves that they would never physically hurt us as they hated being abused when they were children, they kept that promise. What did follow was trauma my parents faced from their parents and residential schools that they didn't know how to cope with, so they turned to drinking.

My parents were both alcoholics and in turn were neglectful. I am 26 now and I suffer from the direct effects of intergenerational trauma. I had a drinking problem (am now three years sober) as well as many mental health issues that have altered my life in drastic ways. I am confident that if residential schools were never invented my everyday suffering would be less.

I'm not going to bore you with the details of my life but I am not a healthy person. I have to use both hands to count the amount of times I have tried to commit suicide and once I got so close that I was in a coma for three days. It doesn't help that I personally feel failed by the education system and health system as there is systemic racism engrained in both, but that's a whole other story.

What does this have to do with Sir John A. Macdonald? John A. Macdonald authorized the creation of residential schools and has said the following:

“When the school is on the reserve the child lives with its parents, who are savages; he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write his habits, and training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly pressed on myself, as the head of the Department, that the Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.” — Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, Official report of the debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada, 9 May 1883, 1107–1108 (Source)

John A. Macdonald thought that Indigenous children should be ripped away from their homes and cultures and adopt the thoughts and habits of white people. He wanted to take the Indian out of every child. He put in place racist policies and played a massive part in colonizing Canada.

If the City of Regina truly wants to take a step towards reconciliation, they will stick to their word about removing the statue from Victoria Park.

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