Article 3: An Interview with My Indigenous Peers on Intergenerational Trauma
The residential school system has an extremely tumultuous history in Canada due to the multi-generational trauma that has been disseminated among Indigenous people. Since the conception of residential schools in the early 1800s, numerous generations of Indigenous people have been negatively affected by the trauma of being removed from their communities and the abuses that they sustained while at these schools. Prior to the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) in 2007, the history of residential schools was not well known or widely discussed, but there has been a substantial increase in the amount of information available about this topic since the release of the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action” in 2015.[i] In the sixty-ninth call to action, the TRC called upon Library and Archives Canada to “Commit more resources to its public education materials and programming on residential schools.”[ii] As a result, there have been many resources developed for the public both online as well as in public institutions regarding the development, operation and lasting social impacts of residential schools. Although these resources about the history of residential schools have been created, they have only provided students with a basic understanding of this system. As a result, this information has not accurately portrayed the dissemination of trauma among Indigenous people. On November 24th, 2022, I interviewed an Indigenous woman in her late twenties from the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, also referred to as Nelson House, to discover the experiences that she and her peers went through during their upbringing as third-generation residential school survivors. Although this Individual wanted to discuss the experiences she and her siblings had during their childhood to help educate others about the ongoing negative effects of intergenerational trauma, she wished to remain anonymous to protect the identity of her family so the pseudo name Cheyanne Harvey has been used throughout this essay. Although younger generations of Indigenous people did not attend these institutions, they have still been subjected to emotional and physical trauma. A lack of education about this subject has caused many Indigenous people to continually question why their relatives were forced to attend these institutions. Moreover, residential school survivors have disciplined their children the same way they experienced it while attending residential schools. The TRC’s focus on gaining information about the experiences of first-generation survivors created an abundance of information in public resources such as government websites and textbooks regarding the operation of residential schools from the 19th century to the early 20th century, but there has been very little information procured regarding intergenerational trauma for those who did not attend residential schools. As a result, many people including Indigenous people have assumed that there is no legacy of the residential school systems because residential schools don’t exist anymore, but this notion is incorrect and there are many Indigenous people who continue to be severely negatively impacted by the legacy of residential school system. Therefore, to fully understand the scope of the trauma that has been caused by the residential school system, further research into intergenerational trauma is necessary. My interview with Harvey attests to the “legacy” of residential school systems and explains why some of the Indigenous people are still being affected.
Despite increased education about residential schools throughout public resources and in educational settings, the focus on the history of residential schools has created misinterpretations about the timeline of the residential school system. When I asked Harvey about her educational experience regarding residential schools, she stated that the residential school history was not discussed throughout her education until they began attending classes that focused on Indigenous history at the University College of the North in Thompson, Manitoba.[iii] Additionally, Harvey stated that while in primary school if the topic of residential schools was brought up educators focused on explaining what happened at the institutions and did not explain why Indigenous children were taken from their families and brought to these schools.[iv] Although the key concepts of the Manitoba social studies curriculum have included Indigenous content from Grade Two onward, there were no specific outcomes designated to teach students about residential schools. According to the Manitoba curriculum, one of the key learning outcomes of Grade Two social studies was “Aboriginal communities in Canada.”[v] Additionally, as the grade levels get higher, teachers can expand on these concepts and incorporate other communities and cultures within the curriculum. For example, the “contributions of diverse, ethnic and cultural communities” including Aboriginal, European and francophone communities was listed in the Grade Four learning outcomes.[vi] Although educators have been expected to teach about other cultures within their lessons, these key outcomes are very generic. For example, the learning outcomes of Grade Four social studies state that students should be versed in “stories of events and individuals from Manitoba’s past.”[vii] Although the learning outcomes emphasized teaching students about events and individuals from Manitoba’s past, it did not specify which events or individuals to discuss. As a result, the topic of residential schools was often neglected or only briefly discussed, and this has created mass unfamiliarity around this subject.
Since the release of the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action” in 2015, the Manitoba government has made efforts to provide more information about the history of residential schools to students of all age groups. In the twenty-page document that outlined ninety-four recommendations for the Canadian government, subsection i of the sixty-second recommendation called “upon the federal, provincial and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to … Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students.”[viii] To adhere to this recommendation, the Government of Manitoba encouraged an increased focus on Indigenous culture in educational institutions and they released a document in 2021 that provided educators with resources for all grade levels about the establishment, operation as well as legacy of residential schools.[ix] Harvey confirmed that the amount of Indigenous content has increased in schools when she compared present educational resources to the resources that were used while she was in primary, elementary and high school throughout the early 2000s. She explained that older educational resources such as textbooks did not include much content about residential schools, but only recent textbooks have accurately portrayed the concept of residential schools and the social issues that have continued to plague Indigenous people as a result.[x] Additionally, in the Mystery Lake School District teachers are now expected to include Indigenous content within their social studies lessons and there are monthly school-wide activities based on the Seven Sacred Teachings. Harvey pointed out that learning about Indigenous culture, ceremony, and the impact of residential schools has helped her process the trauma that she has experienced and allowed her to improve her mental health.[xi] Therefore, education about residential schools has been beneficial because it has begun the truth and reconciliation process during which people have learnt why the atrocities occurred under the residential school systems. Only after knowing the truth, can intergenerational trauma be reduced.
Although there have been efforts made to adhere to these recommendations, the TRC’s focus on the history of residential schools and the social issues that have developed as a result has caused a scarcity of information regarding second as well as third-generation residential school survivors. In the interview, Harvey stated that the research the TRC completed between 2007 and 2015 has provided the general population with enough information to develop a basic understanding of the residential school system, but the focus on the historical aspects of this assimilation system has made “it seem like it was hundreds of years ago when in reality it was not too long ago” that residential schools existed.[xii] She further explained that both of her parents underwent assimilation attempts by the dominant society in the late 20th century. Harvey’s father was forced to attend a residential school in Brandon and her mother attended a day school that operated very similarly to residential schools in Nelson House.[xiii] Thus, despite the existence of these institutions in the late 20th century, the timeline of the operation of residential schools and day schools has not been adequately expressed in resources that have been made available to the public. According to CTV News Saskatoon, the last residential school in Canada, The Muscowequan Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan closed in 1997, but despite this fact, there was very little information that elaborated on this fact or included it on other websites.[xiv]
On the timeline of residential schools, in 2008 CBC touched upon the topic of the physical as well as sexual abuses that residential school survivors experienced prior to 1996, but from 1996 onward the news outlet only briefly included the closure of the Gordon Residential School and did not mention the closure of the Muscowequan Indian Residential School.[xv] Thus, as the website moved into the late 20th and early 21st centuries it excluded any detailed information on residential schools as well as the issues of the survivors. As a result, public perceptions about the timeline of residential schools have become askew. Additionally, the Government of Canada website detailed that residential “schools for Indigenous children existed in Canada from the 17th century until the late 1990s,” but the rest of the website focused on the operation of these schools in the 19th and early 20th centuries as well as provided an approximate number of students that attended these schools throughout their operation.[xvi] Although many websites, including the Government of Canada and CBC websites, have been unclear about this topic, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) has compiled an extremely detailed list of many residential schools in the archives section of their website. The NCTR Archives webpage consisted of a list of one hundred and seventy-one residential schools that operated in Canada.[xvii] The list included a brief explanation of each residential school and the dates that each school was in operation.[xviii] For example, the Akaitcho Hall residential school was third on the list and it operated from 1958 to 1994.[xix] Additionally, the NCTR has developed this webpage to redirect visitors to another page that displayed additional information about the school as well as any photos that were available after visitors click the link associated with each entry on the list.[xx] Although there was a multitude of information that proved residential schools were in operation into the late 20th century, potential visitors may have found it difficult to access this information on the website. In order to reach the NCTR Archive page, the public must navigate through three different web pages before they reach the archive page. As a result, people that have attempted to learn about residential schools may have experienced discouragement because this information has not been made easy to access. Additionally, even though the NCTR Archive page is a valuable source of residential schools in Canada, there is little information made available about day schools which lasted until the late 20th century. As a result, the public population assumes that residential schools were abolished in the early 20th century and consider the social issues that Indigenous people have as a product of their own actions.
According to Harvey, in addition to experiencing a lack of education about residential schools while she attended school, there was no discussion about residential schools in her home community because most residential school survivors that resided in Nelson House, including her father, did not wish to talk about their experiences. As a result, perceptions about the timeline of residential schools have also been askew in Indigenous communities. Harvey explained that when she inquired members of her community about residential schools, many of them estimated that residential schools were closed approximately eighty years ago.[xxi] Additionally, when the interviewee left their home community, she found that most people believed that residential schools stopped operating hundreds of years ago.[xxii] Therefore, the perceived timeline of residential schools has been distorted because resources that have been made available to the general population focus on the history of residential schools and do not detail the ongoing traumas Indigenous people have continued to experience.
The legacy of residential schools has continued to negatively affect Indigenous people in a variety of ways. As Harvey explained, she was drastically impacted by the legacy of residential schools both physically and emotionally because their parents imposed several of the discipline techniques that they experienced at these schools on their children.[xxiii] According to Harvey, she and her siblings would have to hand pick every piece of lint off of the large rug they had in their living room, but if their efforts were not to their father’s satisfaction he dumped everything they had already collected and made them start over.[xxiv] Additionally, Harvey explained that they were given a long list of chores that needed to be completed after school each day and they were only given half an hour to complete all the chores because their mother expected everything to be done when she returned home from work.[xxv] This created an extreme amount of anxiety for Harvey because her mother would throw things around the house if the chores were not completed or they misbehaved in any way.[xxvi] As a result, Harvey often ran away and hid in the woods as a child until their parents had calmed down.[xxvii] Furthermore, Harvey explained that her mental health was significantly compromised as an adolescent and has remained “pretty worn down” as she has continued to process these daily events that she experienced during her childhood.[xxviii] Due to the historical focus of the TRC’s research, the information on the issue of residential schools mainly covers the residential school system in the 19th and 20th centuries. As a result, many people may have not been aware that residential schools were still in operation until the late 1990s. As we know, a large population of first-generation residential school survivors are still alive. Furthermore, intergenerational trauma has remained prominent as younger generations of Indigenous children get older.
Despite the lack of information regarding residential schools from the late 20th century to the 21st century, the Truth and Reconciliation process has begun and there have been ongoing efforts to contribute to decolonization in Canada. Many resources have been developed for the public to learn about residential schools as well as the ongoing social issues that exist because of these institutions including pages on the Canadian government’s website, the TRC’s website, and textbooks. To Harvey, Canadians have just started understanding the result of cultural assimilation, acknowledging the faults of the church as well as the Canadian government at that time, and both have made a meaningful apology for their wrongdoing. These actions have been a positive way to begin the process of reconciliation, but education about the full scope of residential schools needs to be included rather than just focusing on the historical aspects.[xxix] Education must include historical aspects, the purpose of the historical events, and the current perspectives. Furthermore, Harvey suggested that the truth and reconciliation process could benefit if education was made more relevant to Indigenous students through instruction about traditional teachings and ceremonies.[xxx] Providing more opportunities to learn about Indigenous culture would assist Indigenous students in finding their identity through education because many residential school survivors have remained unwilling to pass on Indigenous traditions and culture to their descendants. In Harvey’s experience, she has found that being in school and receiving an education has helped her heal the trauma that she has personally experienced.[xxxi] Harvey also explained that she plans on becoming a Cree teacher to assist future generations with finding their cultural identity and rebuild aspects of Indigenous culture that have been put at risk, like language.[xxxii] Education about residential schools, intergenerational trauma and efforts that have been made to reconstruct Indigenous culture have been pivotal to the truth and reconciliation process. Indigenous students have been able to discover their cultural identity and develop an understanding of why elders have not been willing to pass on their culture or recount their experiences at residential schools to younger generations. As such, continued efforts to make education more accessible and relevant to Indigenous people could provide further positive contributions to the reconciliation process.
Since 2015, there have been substantial efforts made to begin the Truth and Reconciliation process by the Canadian federal government, Manitoban government as well as Indigenous peoples by offering opportunities for residential school survivors to share their stories. As a result, Canada has begun to decolonize the systemic structures that were designed to subjugate and assimilate Indigenous people. Despite these efforts, the timeline of residential schools has been misconstrued due to a lack of educational resources available for the public about residential schools prior to the investigation that was completed by the TRC. Moreover, the focus on the history of residential schools by the TRC, the Canadian government, and educational institutions also contributed to skewed perceptions of residential schools. As a result, there has been little information made available to the public regarding the operation of residential schools in the late 20th century which has caused many citizens throughout Canada to be ignorant to the fact that residential schools were in operation until 1997.[xxxiii] Additionally, from the interview I conducted with Harvey, a third-generation residential school survivor that resides in Manitoba, it can be determined that many second or third-generation residential school survivors have not been given the opportunity to discuss the trauma that they have experienced growing up with parents who have attended residential school. Although the existence of residential schools in the late 20th century has not been adequately detailed in current educational resources, increased education about the residential school system has benefitted Indigenous people as it has allowed them to develop their cultural identity and understand why these events occurred. Thus, education has been a vital aspect of the truth and reconciliation process. Further research into the effects of intergenerational trauma and education about residential schools will allow people to continue working toward reconciliation.
CBC News. “A Timeline of Residential Schools, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission | CBC News.” CBC news. CBC/Radio Canada, March 25, 2014. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/a-timeline-of-residential-schools-the-truth-and-reconciliation-commission-1.724434.
CTV News Saskatoon. “’It’s Recent’: Survivor Reflects on Last Sask. Residential School Closing 25 Years Ago.” Saskatoon, June 30, 2022. https://saskatoon.ctvnews.ca/it-s-recent-last-residential-school-in-sask-closed-25-years-ago-1.5970355.
Government of Canada; Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. “Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.” Government of Canada; Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, September 29, 2022. https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1450124405592/1529106060525.
Government of Manitoba. “Education and Early Childhood Learning.” Social Studies | Manitoba Education and Early Childhood Learning, n.d. https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/cur/socstud/key_conceptk4.html#top.
Manitoba Education. Residential Schools Resources for Educators. Winnipeg, MB: Government of Manitoba, 2021. https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/cur/socstud/docs/residential_schools.pdf.
National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. “NCTR Public.” NCTR Public, 2022. https://archives.nctr.ca/actor/browse?sort=alphabetic&sortDir=asc&entityType=840.
Parks Canada. “The Residential School System.” Canada.ca. Government of Canada, September 1, 2020. https://www.canada.ca/en/parks-canada/news/2020/09/the-residential-school-system.html.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2015. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/indigenous-people/aboriginal-peoples-documents/calls_to_action_english2.pdf.
i Government of Canada; Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, “Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada,” Government of Canada; Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, September 29, 2022, https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1450124405592/1529106060525.
ii Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 8.
iii Cheyanne Harvey, interview by Kelly Laybolt, University College of the North, November 24, 2022
iv Interview with Residential school Survivor, November 24, 2022.
v Government of Manitoba, “Education and Early Childhood Learning,” Social Studies | Manitoba Education and Early Childhood Learning, 0AD, https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/cur/socstud/key_conceptk4.html#top.
vi Government of Manitoba.
vii Government of Manitoba.
viii Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 7.
ix Manitoba Education, Residential schools Resources for Educators (Winnipeg, MB: Government of Manitoba, 2021), https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/cur/socstud/docs/residential_schools.pdf.
x Harvey, 2022.
xi Harvey, 2022.
xii Harvey, 2022.
xiii Harvey, 2022.
xiv CTV News Saskatoon, “’It’s Recent’: Survivor Reflects on Last Sask. Residential School Closing 25 Years Ago,” Saskatoon, June 30, 2022, https://saskatoon.ctvnews.ca/it-s-recent-last-residential-school-in-sask-closed-25-years-ago-1.5970355.
xv CBC News.” CBC News. CBC/Radio Canada, March 25, 2014. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/a-timeline-of-residential-schools-the-truth-and-reconciliation-commission-1.724434.
xvi Parks Canada, “The Residential School System,” Canada.ca (Government of Canada, September 1, 2020), https://www.canada.ca/en/parks-canada/news/2020/09/the-residential-school-system.html.
xvii National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, “NCTR Public,” NCTR Public, 2022, https://archives.nctr.ca/actor/browse?sort=alphabetic&sortDir=asc&entityType=840.
xviii National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
xix National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
xx National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
xxi Harvey, 2022.
xxii Harvey, 2022.
xxiii Harvey, 2022.
xxiv Harvey, 2022.
xxv Harvey, 2022.
xxvi Harvey, 2022.
xxvii Harvey, 2022.
xxviii Harvey, 2022.
xxix Harvey, 2022.
xxx Harvey, 2022.
xxxi Harvey, 2022.
xxxii Harvey, 2022.
xxxiii CTV News Saskatoon.
Kelly Laybolt is currently in his fourth year in the Bachelor of Arts program at the University College of the North (UCN). Throughout his time at UCN, Kelly has had several opportunities to learn about Indigenous culture in various classes that he has taken. As a result, he has been able to gain a substantial amount of knowledge about residential schools, but after discussions with his classmates, he has discovered that there has been a misconception about the timeline of these institutions. Through his work, Kelly hopes to dispel some of the incorrect notions surrounding residential schools and provide readers with the tools to seek further information through various sources that have been made available. In the future, Kelly plans to enter the education program at UCN to learn more about Indigenous culture and how to integrate Indigenous culture and content in his teaching.
Instructor’s Remarks: Kelly Laybolt’s interview paper does not only introduce the intergenerational trauma that a third-generation of Residential School survivor has experienced, but also analyzes the cause that has deepened the intergenerational trauma. Kelly has also provided sources and references to demonstrate the lack of education in residential school system during his schooling before he studied in University College of the North (UCN). Both Kelly and his interviewee think that truthful education on the residential school systems and legacy will help Indigenous people heal from the historical trauma. (Dr. Ying Kong)