Many of our First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students and families are still experiencing the impact of inter-generational trauma and historical loss and this is important for educators to have understanding of.
Why not Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? What is the difference? PTSD can follow after a traumatic event. This does not accurately describe inter-generational trauma or historical loss. Complex trauma does deal with multiple traumas; however, it does not take into consideration massive group trauma or generational trauma.
In the 19th Century, the Canadian government adopted a policy called ‘aggressive assimilation’ that was to see Aboriginal people learn English, adopt Christianity, and Canadian customs to enable them the best chance for success in Canadian society. The real hope was to erase all forms of Aboriginal culture and language within a few generations. What Aboriginal people lost was their right to mourn, to practice their spirituality, and ultimately their identity.
Historical trauma can be defined as a cumulative emotional and psychological wounding across generations, including one’s own lifespan. Not only the actual events of the massive group trauma, but the unresolved grief go along with historical trauma. The last residential school in Canada closed in 1996.
Some of the response features of historical trauma are: survivor guilt, depression and psychic numbing, fixation to trauma, low self-esteem, victim identity, anger, self-destructive behaviour, substance abuse, hyper-vigilance, compensatory fantasies, preoccupation with death, death identity, loyalty to the ancestral suffering and to the deceased, internalization of ancestral suffering, and internalized oppression.
Having an understanding of the trauma and some of the responses to the trauma, educators and others should develop an understanding that the effects are not always self-chosen but a result of a massive loss. The impact of inter-generational trauma and historical loss is a common factor for current challenges many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people share.
As professionals, responding with this perspective, and not dismissing the impact, creating authentic relationships becomes honest and meaningful. Also, by acknowledging individual cultural identities and ancestral past, a process of healing can begin.
For more information on inter-generational trauma and historical loss, refer to the National Aboriginal Health Organization.