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CONTRIBUTION · 15th January 2012
Gerald Kiesman
Historical trauma from as early as the 1880’s such as the banish of the potlatch which wasn’t re-instated until the 1950’s has had a drastic impact on the culture, traditions, spirituality, customs and practices of Aboriginal people.

An amendment to the 1920 Indian act included the compulsory attendance of Indian children to be boarded at Indian Residential Schools to teach the Aboriginal children the European way of living and segregating them from their culture, language, spirituality and traditions. The last school closed in 1991. The generations of Aboriginal people throughout the 20th century suffered extreme historical trauma. Even though the last residential schools closed 21 years ago, Aboriginal people are still suffering from the impacts of those events.

Not like the World wars that lasted a few years, Aboriginal people suffered a different type of war that lasted at least a century. The Canadian Government used laws such as the 1920 amendment to the Indian Act, the Canadian Government along with church denominations incarcerate Aboriginal children in residential schools where they would inflict violence upon many; verbal, physical, sexual and psychological abuse as well as oppress them of their self-identity and denied them of the Aboriginal role of parental nurturing. The last residential school closed in 1991, a century of historical trauma was inflicted upon Aboriginal People. We cannot deny this history.

What should have been bright, happy children coming out of these institutions throughout the 1920’s to the 1990’s were the opposite, although some benefited from the school, many were suffering extreme post traumatic stress disorder. Not knowing how to function in a new life as the memories of the institution were horrific, many resorted to alcohol or drugs to suppress the pain. Majority of the young adults are lacking the parenting skills to become a parent therefore struggle in raising their children, many of the children are ending up in the child welfare system. Instead of European way of living, what many learnt in the residential school was verbal, physical and sexual abuse, this type of abuse made its way back to the communities where it became rampant in all Aboriginal communities across Canada. The violence has carried on in the generations of Aboriginal people throughout the 20th century.

The traumas of the residential school system have extremely impacted many Aboriginal people today. Headlines across Canada continually paint a shocking reality faced by today’s Aboriginal population:

suicides, high rate of Aboriginal incarceration, low graduation rate, high rate of aboriginal children in care, poverty, hiv/aids, diabetes, violence against women-missing and murdered Aboriginal women, etc...

These headlines represent yet another day of the sad legacy of the residential school system.

Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from unresolved trauma are strongly visible in many reserves today and in urban communities across Canada, such as the downtown eastside of Vancouver, or communities suffering from gang violence in Hobbema, Alberta, housing crisis and disclosures of abuse at Attawapiskat, or concerns of narcotic abuse at Eabametoong First Nation.

Low self-esteems, low self confidence, shame, fear, anger, is common symptoms that many are suffering. The symptoms can have an impact on ones worth to take care of themselves or place of residence.
The Aboriginal Healing Foundation estimates that 30% of Aboriginal people across Canada suffer from Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD contributes to the negative social, mental, spiritual and physical health of Aboriginal people across the country. This includes the highest rate of children in care; the highest rates of incarceration; the lowest high-school graduation rate, highest level of unemployment, poverty, homelessness addictions such as; alcoholism, narcotic drugs, are all well known symptoms of PTSD.

For Aboriginal people to overcome this devastating disease of Post traumatic Stress Disorder it must be in the forefront in all areas of health, social, education and justice. Health Canada along with Mental Health and First Nations Communities must work towards bringing awareness of post traumatic stress disorder within the Aboriginal population.

Aboriginal communities must focus on a trauma recovery plan as historical symptoms of trauma are strongly visible in all communities. Each Nation must develop and implement programs that are focused on post traumatic stress disorder. Post Traumatic Stress Treatment Centre’s are needed that are focused on using western and traditional healing and self care methods. They must work on educating community members on PTSD in ages of youth, adults and elders and to provide educational information on basic healing and self care methods.

To train frontline workers to better understand PTSD, in all areas of Social, Mental Health, Education, Employment, Justice, Medical Health and Employment sector, as they can assist in witnessing and guiding the client through the healing process.

Through healing First Nations people will become full participants within their nation and society in all areas of culture, education, employment, politics, business, sports and leisure, self-government and public participation. We can no longer continue to lead in the negative statistics in this country.

Gerald is well known and respected for his work with front line workers, Residential and Day-School survivors, Elders and Youth. Gerald has presented at the National First Nations Child and Family Services Conferences in 2008 and 2009, as well as numerous conferences and seminars across BC, Gerald was recently a keynote speaker at a Correctional Services Canada/National Parole Board Victims of Crime Conference. Gerald’s work has been broadcast on CBC National News, and his story has been shared in print and electronic media across Canada.