Inter-generational effects of Residential School on Indigenous People
The inter-generational effects of residential school is often difficult to understand, not only by the observers but by the impacted. I had the opportunity to attend a talk given today by the Women whose research into the effects and impact on their own lives. The women were professionals whose lived experiences were recorded in digital story format. You can view these digital stories at: http://www.uwinnipeg.ca/index/oral-history-centre
The first womans digital story was against the photo of her beautiful young smiling mother. It was the haunting picture of her hazel eyes that told parts of her story and parts of her daughters story. It was difficult to sit quietly detached as my own emotion was riding just behind the surface of my own questions. I also caught my shoulders riding up to my ears, like I was trying to hide from the pain of my own remembering. Catching my physical reactions, I sat back and willed myself to breathe deeply, center, and listen to the stories, that were not unlike my own. I gazed at the photo of this young mother, and heard her daughters voice as their stories and lives were woven together. Like many survivor children, her daughter only heard parts of her story through her statement to the Indian Residential School settlement process. Out of respect, no questions are asked. It was only when the digital story of the daughter was shared and published, did the words “I love you and support you” take on a new meaning. Through reflection, the daughter found that she had experienced similar coping mechanisms to deal with the loss of identity and fear of abandonment and violence.
One womans digital story was against the backdrop of “the apology” proclaimed by the government of Canada in chambers in 2008. Five years later, the question is: What is the merit of the apology in the understanding of the inter-generational experience? In the moment of the apology, there was a feeling of relief that in fact, our experiences were real and had been validated by the perpetrator. There was profound relief that finally the perpetrator had admitted guilt. This validation gave us the opportunity to grieve the generations that had been immediately affected by the horrors of abuse and the generations who then lived the abuse in the shadows of a fearful parenting model.
The lead researcher, in the project, Roberta Stout,stated that, “telling our personal stories gives us the power to disrupt the affects of the colonial power within us”. And that is true, as once we are able to uncover the pain, we begin to grow out of it and see the power of our collective stories. We begin to see in our stories, the complete and powerful resilience of our mothers and our fathers to live with these painful memories. We can begin to see how this powerful resilience exists within all of us and carry in our cell memory. This resilience will guide us for generations to come.
In honoring this resilience, then my gratitude will always be extended to Phil Fontaine for his bravery for being the first public figure to disclose the horror of residential school. He walked with us through the valley of darkness and we began to understand that we are not victims and we are not powerless. The extent of the systemic and organized attempt to destroy a people, our people, is still being uncovered. However deep the pain and depraved the system has been, it no longer holds the power of the unspoken. We continue to rise and stand in our own power as nations of people, as proud human beings whose ancestors, whose mothers and fathers paid the blood price for our freedom and gave us