C/O Dulcey Lima

Being aware of Canada’s historical atrocities helps one understand why Indigenous people can’t just “get over it”

By: Kimia Tahaei, Contributor

cw: suicide, abuse, violence, drug use

Time after time, we hear non-Indigenous individuals criticize the Indigenous community with demands to get over it and move on. Although it is seemingly perspicuous why the community cannot simply move past the decades of cultural erasure, mass genocide and racial discrimination, I will provide an even deeper insight in this article in hopes of educating the few. 

Imagine being discriminated against on your land and then being forced to absorb the colonizer’s culture. Not only was the land of Indigenous peoples strategically stripped away from them, but so was their culture, language and children. Since land confiscation was seemingly not enough, they are racially profiled and systemically discriminated against up to the present time. Taking into further consideration barbaric acts such as forcefully seizing children into the residential school system and coercing adults into working for plantations, it is naive to assume that long-term trauma doesn’t form as a result. 

Fred Kelly, a citizen of the Ojibways of Onigaming of the Anishinaabe Nation and an IRS survivor, described his experience as “agonizing”. In his writings in The Confessions of a Born Again Pagan, Kelly describes how the residential school system would brainwash young Indigenous children into shame and guilt because of their language, traditions and cultural practices. Kelly was taken away from his parents at a young and vulnerable age, had his hair cut as a symbol of cultural confiscation and faced physical abuse in numerous encounters. I wonder if colonizers ever saw the irony of committing these merciless acts against defenceless children and yet convincing them that they were the savage ones and in need of civilization. 

Experiencing such intense traumatization at an impressionable age can lead to psychological issues such as an inferiority complex, post-traumatic stress disorder, crippling depression and future violent behaviour.

Taking a deeper psychological dive, after centuries of exploitation and experiencing European standards of right and wrong, it’s unsurprising that some Indigenous individuals questioned whether the Europeans were truly superior and how this societal hierarchy has remained constant through time. It is wholly unacceptable how the colonizers set themselves as a standard of success and have judged everything by that standard to this day.

Not only does this haunt Indigenous individuals who directly experienced this trauma in their lifetime, but it can also be passed on to subsequent generations. The transmission of this type of trauma caused by oppressive historical events is defined as intergenerational trauma. Although the mechanisms of transmission of intergenerational trauma are still unclear to scientists, the data is definite. According to the Aboriginal Peoples Survey, children and grandchildren of those who attended the residential schools were more likely to report signs of psychological distress, attempt suicide, experience learning difficulties and participate in drug use. Furthermore, with many Indigenous people living in rural and isolated areas, individuals have minimum access to mental health resources. Therefore, since the Indigenous community cannot approach their grief easily, historical traumatization and cultural dislocation, it becomes increasingly difficult to simply get over it

I strongly believe that through historical education, the stigmatization of the Indigenous community can be altered if non-Indigenous individuals truly understand the depths of trauma that they have faced in all stages of life. 

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