I am drawn to the relationship between Aboriginal people and Canada like I am drawn to a train wreck. It’s something that I can’t look away from, it’s something that fascinates me.
There is no doubt that the trauma residential schools drove into its victims is still destroying families underneath the surface today. Yet only recently, are we speaking about this. In eighth grade, we had a First Nations Studies unit in socials, and when we went over residential schools, I felt that my teacher almost sugar coated it. It is only now that I am learning the full extent of these events.
What draws me in about this whole ordeal is the aftermath of residential schools. The last residential school to close was only in 1996, so the ripple effect is going to be “rippling” for a while. The ripple effect catches onto a number of people; survivors of the schools, their families, and their children. Although these children today never went through the residential school system, family members before them have created lasting impressions. For example, here is an article showing that young aboriginal women in B.C. are more likely to be victims of violence if they were sexually abused as children or had a parent who attended a residential school.
Residential schools laid the foundation for the epidemic that we see across Canada of domestic abuse and violence against Aboriginal women and children. Generations of children never grew up with a safe, secure, or loving home so when they become adults and have children, some lack the skills to “properly” raise a child and, having only experienced abuse, in turn abuse their children and family members. As well, the sense of worthlessness instilled into the students at the schools contributed to low self-esteems, which leads to high rates of alcoholism, drug addictions, self harm and sadly, suicide. Among First Nations people aged 10 to 44, suicide and self-inflicted injury is the number one cause of death, responsible for almost 40 percent of mortalities.
This sort of thing is not one we can say sorry for and then brush off. The Anglican Church issued an apology in 1993, and survivors are continuing to come forward and share their stories. However, where does this leave us? Us, as in us white people. I believe some of us hold “white guilt” over our heads like a little rain cloud following us everywhere we go. When I look on the news or read a history textbook, the “so pale we’re red because of the blood rushing through our faces” race are known for their colonizations and genocides that aren’t always recognized as genocides. Although we’ve sheepishly apologized for our actions and signed a few treaties, a lot of us still feel bad for actions created by our ancestors. What can we do about this? Going out and apologizing to every aboriginal person you meet could be a bit counterintuitive, so I don’t suggest that. What I do suggest however, is recognizing what these people went through and are still struggling to cope with. Realize that not every aboriginal person is broken or damaged, however come from a race who have been beaten, slaughtered and denied their land and rights. Listen to their stories of survival. They have been silenced for far too long, and now are finally speaking up.
What white people need to do is listen. To ask for the truth and let it be spoken. Let it be shared. Let it be heard. Let the truth of the voices reign. Let them heal in a safe place – in the company of the open hearts and ears of those they tried to reach in vain for so long.