By Jack Sinclair
The effects of residential schools are still being felt today all across the country. Although these schools were shut down over twenty years ago, trauma for victims is still felt today. There is a great intergenerational impact that families of residential school victims are experiencing: traits developed because of abuse suffered are passed on the victims children who then pass on these traits to their children and so on…
The term intergenerational impact is used to describe the cycle of abuse experienced by residential school abuse victims. People who were abused in these schools did not learn how to take care of themselves, they often didn’t experience love and their self-esteem was shattered due to abuse at the hand of others. These negative feelings and behaviours that they lived then continued when the student left the school. This means that not only are effects being felt directly by victims, but also by future generations within the family.
When abuse is suffered, often victims believe that it is a ‘norm’. These characteristics and behaviours then sometimes are unwittingly passed on to their own children. Abuse can be cyclical (meaning it is a cycle that is hard to break) and if abused, the abused will sometimes become the abuser because it is a learned behaviour. Many residential school abuse victims lacked strong parenting skills because they were denied their parents while in school. Many residential school residents only knew their teachers and in some case, abusers, in the parental role. These students were denied a traditional upbringing and therefore much tradition has also been lost in many families. They say the best education is life experience and for many residential school residents, childhood was spent in an institution with no parental role models, cultural learning or traditional beliefs being instilled. Many of these residents literally had no childhood.
Another effect of the residential school system is that many victims are unwilling to talk about it. That’s why I think it would be such a good thing for my dad to go to a retreat like the one Joanne is putting on. A lot of people go their entire lives without ever working through the pain they suffered at the hands of others. Sharing stories and opening up is the first step towards healing. I’m worried if my dad doesn’t open up soon he will erupt with built up pain and anxiety.
For my dad, Crystal was a trigger. Seeing Crystal as a young woman caused him to confront what actually happened to him at the school and react in the only way he really knew how, with anger. Anger is an emotion he grew up with and so out of familiarity, it is the emotion that he uses to deal with his own problems.
I can’t really say that the trauma is over. The fact that my dad has accepted and admitted what happened at the residential school is a big first step. He is ready to start talking about it and in turn, will start healing. It won’t be quick, it won’t be easy but hopefully with Joanne’s help and the love and support of his family, he’ll get over it and we can be a family again. I know that’s what I want.