How the Government of Canada began to institute the forcible separation of Aboriginal people from their land, culture and identity in order to have them adopt European lifestyles was launched with the Residential School system. It is the position of this article that this calculated strategy caused significant cumulative trauma in multiple generations of Aboriginal people.
Prior to those events,the social policy adopted by the Canadian Government in 1876 with the passing of The Indian Act is an example of how the federal government supported the extinguishment of Aboriginal peoples as separate and distinct peoples from the dominant European identity. This shift in federal policies from one of protector of both Aboriginal people and their lands, as set out in the “Royal Proclamation of 1763” (INAC, 1996) resulted from an increased desire to assume ownership of Aboriginal lands in the West to bring settlers, institute private property rights and establish Municipal Governments, (Tobias 1976).
Children raised in a strict, disciplined environment with substandard care and no personal affection has left generations of Aboriginal people without traditional survival skills, ceremonial rituals and little extended family contact. This loss of ceremonial rituals attacks the spiritual core of an Aboriginal person. Without ceremonial mourning rituals they do not have knowledge or access to rituals allowing proper mourning of the substantial grief experienced (Brave Heart, DeBruyn, 1998).
Without the safe expression of grief and bereavement, this unresolved grief is a key concept in understanding the Aboriginal experience in Canada.The suppression of language and ceremony is a clear example of policies of Canada’s government intended to remove Aboriginal’s identity to be replaced with European dominant values and culture. Brave Heart (1999) discussed this trauma as having multiple impacts on individual functioning leading to serious long-term mental and emotional disturbances. Children raised in Residential Schools reported increased stress when parenting their own children, inadequate feelings, and report confusion in how to parent children (Brave Heart, 1999).
Research has shown, (Smith et al. 2005) significant and extreme emotional injury and mental health concerns were caused by forced removal of children from their parental care under the Indian Act, where they were taken to Residential Schools where no traditional relationships continued, nor traditional parenting roles modelled and where negative experiences like physical, sexual and emotional trauma and abuse were perpetrated on children by the institutional staff.
Brave Heart, M.Y.H., & DeBruyn, L. (1998). The American Indian holocaust: Healing historical unresolved grief. American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research: Journal of the National Center, 8(2), 60-82.
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. (1996). Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Retrieved March 7, 2007, from http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/ch/rcap/sg/sgmm_e.html
Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart (1999) Oyate Ptayela: Rebuilding the Lakota Nation Through Addressing Historical Trauma Among Lakota Parents, Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 2:1-2, 109-126, DOI: 10.1300/J137v02n01_08. To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J137v02n01_08
Tobias, J. L., (1976). Protection, civilization, assimilation: an outline history of Canada’s indian policy. Sweet Promises, A Reader for Indian-White relations in Canada, 127 – 144.
Smith, D., Varcoe, C., & Edwards, N. (2005). Turning around the intergenerational impact of RS on aboriginal people: Implications for health policy and practice. Canadian Journal of Nursing Research, 37, 4, 38-60.