Intergenerational Effects of Residential Schools
Who are the people that went to residential schools, where are they, and their families today? Have you ever heard someone talk about residential schools like it was an everyday conversation? Residential schools have become so camouflaged into the back of people’s minds. People tend to forget that these schools took place and that they are real life events that can have an effect on everyone around them. These schools have left such an imprint on Canada as a whole, that people should be more aware about the outcomes and more familiar with the history of these schools. The intergenerational effects of residential schools in today’s society has taken such a toll on Canada and especially on aboriginal people. Residential schools, was Canada’s policy of a genocide.(apa format) A genocide which has created such a conflict, nobody had ever anticipated that this would be the outcome. I want to be able to show whomever is reading this paper, the effects and the outcomes of what residential schools have on Canada and on aboriginal people. I will be interviewing Joni Desnomie who attended the Whitecap Residential School located in Lebret, Saskatchewan.
When residential schools opened the Aboriginal people were told that they would get the educational rights that they had requested for their communities. Aboriginal leaders wanted to understand and learn more about the western culture that they felt were important. Regrettably, they did not prepare for the serious of unfortunate events that would come from these schools. “Though the Indians cooperated with these first residential schools and helped finance them, they soon recognized that their educational objectives were very different from those of the government and missionaries. The official policy of assimilation demanded a complete rejection of anything Indian.” (A.Grant pg. 59) When the aboriginal people found out that the school were set up for assimilation and rejection of Indian they refused to support, or send their children. Which lead to the Europeans to use forceful measures to get the children to attend these schools.
The definition I found that fits the series of events that took place at the time of residential schools “The systematic and widespread extermination or attempted extermination of an entire national, racial, religious, or ethnic group.” (dictionary.com) Residential schools were in fact considered a genocide. “To kill the Indian inside the child” is what the missionaries had intended the residential schools to do to these children. “Savages” to “Civilized members” of Canadian society. (wherearethechildren.ca) Although some students who attended residential schools had a good experience and got the knowledge that was useful to live their life “normally” when they finished, majority of other students were not so fortunate. The sexual, emotional, mental and spiritual abuse they had suffered while attending the school will forever be burned into their skin, a wound that will never fully heal. These wounds will be passed down generation to generation until the survivors of these schools will open up and talk about the incidents, so that the healing process can begin. Often times the children who have been abused became the abusers. Although the government started a fund for healing, how does one who attended these schools trust that this program isn’t just another scheme or that this is money to keep these survivors quite? No matter how much money is given back to the indigenous people, it will never make up for what had occurred while attending these schools and stripping them of their culture. “It visited us every day of our childhood through the replaying over and over of our parents’ childhood trauma and grief which they never had the opportunity to resolve in their lifetimes.
(Vera Manuel, child of former students) “Children came from cultures and homes where placing trust in adults was an integral part of their identities. A deep respect for Elders and for anyone connected with the church or any form of spirituality was part of their upbringing, as was courtesy toward strangers.” (A.Grant pg.227) The authority of these schools took full advantage of the way these children were raised and used it against them. If a child is being a victim of any sort of abuse, they will not know any different. They have always been told to listen and to respect their adults and elders. Children will always strive for that love and protection feeling that can be provided from an adult. When an adult was sexually abusing a child, the child often did not try put a stop to it. By not resisting these adults whom were doing these things to them, they thought this is the way to get the love and attention feeling that they were searching for. While interviewing Joni Desnomie, by the way she would talk about the events that occurred I chose not to go through with the interview process. Joni Desnomie is my auntie, growing up with her she talked about going to residential schools and how it was the worse experience of her life. Joni had never had the chance to deal with the events that occurred. She has supressed her emotions towards the school so deep, that when we were talking she started to choke up about the subject. This is a prime example of how much of an impact these schools have on some people and their families. Joni, did not deal with the emotions and while attending the school she had tried to commit suicide numerous times. The scars on her wrists embodies the pain she endured while attending the schools. The scars will forever be a part of her, and tell the story of the horrific events she had to endure growing up. Some say to get the residential school system out of our people completely, it will take up to seven generations. Children are like sponges, they take everything they see/hear and absorb it and think that it is right. Monkey sees as monkey does. When children were released or graduated from these schools, they leave with these horrific memories that they have tried to suppress. Your mind is your worst enemy, Residential schools often lead the survivors into a deep depression and alcoholism. The pain, anger and rage that was built up while in these schools often made someone turn to self-destruction. Not knowing that this is the wrong way of living, the effects are passed down through generation to generation.
Without being told that this is wrong, how is one to know? “Not having learned about family living and having had no role models for parenting, they were confused when it came to their own children. They had never been allowed to make decisions throughout their school years and were not equipped to make decisions upon release.” (A.Grant pg.76) “The disclosure of abuse is a story of human suffering unparalleled in Canadian history. The outpour of suppressed emotions was unprecedented as many survivors had the opportunity, for the first time in their lives, to speak the unspeakable” (A.Grant pg.221) When the survivors of these schools were asked to speak about the events that happened, it lead them into a spiral of self-destruction. When I asked Joni Desnomie if I could interview her for my paper she was very hesitant. Since she has not spoken about it with anyone else. Without knowing how to cope with these emotions they would turn to drugs and alcohol. Not knowing wrong from right, they would make bad decisions which left an imprint on themselves and their families. Alcoholism and drug abuse, is a high rising problem in the aboriginal community. When suffering from an addiction, it is not just the addict who is suffering. Everyone around them is suffering with them. Generally an addict uses or drinks to get away from reality. To not remember the past events that have occurred in their life.
While being intoxicated or under the influence of drugs people make some decisions that they normally wouldn’t have made if they had been sober. If you were to interview everyone who is currently in Regina correctional center, 90% of people would agree that the reason they were in there was related to an event that occurred while being under the influence. “Indian societies had their own belief systems which served them well, Trust, sharing, respect, honour, and acceptance were integral parts of this spiritual belief system and could not be separated in their holistic lifestyle.” (A.Grant pg.232) Residential schools stripped the students of their culture. If the students were to speak their language or practice their beliefs they were beaten or publicly humiliated. When leaving these schools they had lost their culture and had become disconnection to the natural/spiritual world. Leaving the schools and going back to living in their communities often left the students with adjustment problems.
These problems often ended up leaving the child feeling alienated from their families and the inability to express feelings towards one another. Not being able to connect to their families or show love for one another it left these survivors with the feeling of not belonging and disconnection from their parents and siblings. “The generation gap between children and parents was a yawning chasm which left both groups bewildered and helpless” (A.Grant pg.246)