Residential Schools - Intergenerational Impacts
The unresolved trauma of Aboriginal people who experienced or witnessed physical or sexual abuse in the residential school system is passed on from generation to generation. The ongoing cycle of intergenerational abuse in Aboriginal communities is the legacy of physical and sexual abuse in residential schools.
Many generations of Inuit, Métis and First Nation children spent the greater part of their childhood in residential schools. The abuse and neglect they suffered while there left its mark on their adult lives, as well as the lives of their descendants whose families have been characterized by further abuse and neglect.
As adults, many Survivors of residential school abuse found themselves struggling alone with the pain, rage and grief of unresolved trauma. Those who sought escape through marriage or domestic partnerships were often overwhelmed by the complex demands of intimacy, parenting and family life, without previous experience of it or preparation for its demands. Some were also re-victimized by domestic violence or became, themselves, the abusers of their partners, children or parents.
"Intergenerational or multi-generational trauma happens when the effects of trauma are not resolved in one generation. When trauma is ignored and there is no support for dealing with it, the trauma will be passed from one generation to the next. What we learn to see as "normal" when we are children, we pass on to our own children. Children who learn that ... or [sic] sexual abuse is "normal", and who have never dealt with the feelings that come from this, may inflict physical and sexual abuse on their own children. The unhealthy ways of behaving that people use to protect themselves can be passed on to children, without them even knowing they are doing so. This is the legacy of physical and sexual abuse in residential schools."
(Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 1999:A5)
Some residential school Survivors escaped into the military, but became further affected by combat trauma or discriminatory treatment. Others self-medicated their pain through addictions or substance abuse. Gang and drug-related violence, homelessness and poverty began to grow. Those in conflict with the law risked re-victimization through police brutality.
Unresolved trauma from residential school abuse continues to impact individuals, families, communities and nations and will do so until it can be expressed, validated and released in healthy, creative ways.
The definition of intergenerational impacts and the legacy of residential schools abuse follows:
Intergenerational Impacts refers to the effects of physical and sexual abuse that were passed on to the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Aboriginal people who attended the residential school system.
The list below contains impacts that intergenerational Survivors are affected by, many on a day-to-day basis:
- Alcohol and drug abuse;
- Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and fetal alcohol effect (FAE);
- Sexual abuse (past and ongoing);
- Physical abuse (past and ongoing; especially, but not exclusively, of women and children);
- Psychological/emotional abuse;
- Low self-esteem;
- Dysfunctional families and interpersonal relationships;
- Parenting issues such as emotional coldness, rigidity, neglect, poor communications and abandonment;
- Suicide (and the threat of suicide);
- Teen pregnancy;
- Chronic, widespread depression;
- Chronic, widespread rage and anger;
- Eating disorders;
- Sleeping disorders;
- Chronic physical illness related to spiritual and emotional states;
- Layer upon layer of unresolved grief and loss;
- Fear of personal growth, transformation and healing;
- Unconscious internalization of residential school behaviours such as false politeness, not speaking out, passive compliance, excessive neatness, obedience without thought, etc.;