NAMHR Annual Meeting

Ronald Niezen, McGill University - Traumatic Memory in Testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools

The emotional effort and effects (including after-effects) of testifying in Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools challenge prevalent assumptions concerning the healing nature of testimony, particularly testimony that is presented in large public venues. In this paper, I will consider the emotional and mental health effects of testimony to the Commissioner’s Sharing Panels. These “performative” venues for testimony, in their depiction of iconic forms of suffering, not only influence the immediate response of those who share experiences, but have a strong influence on survivor identity. At the same time, witnessing reaches beyond the participating survivor groups and families by contributing to the production of arguments about the history and legacy of residential schools, the institutional sources of traumatic experience.

Amy Bombay, Dalhousie University - The long-term effects of Indian Residential Schools: Exploring the contribution of student-to-student abuse

The Indian Residential School (IRS) Settlement Agreement was signed in 2006 by Aboriginal organizations and the federal government, which included compensation to IRS Survivors through various processes and the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that invited former students to disclose and share these experiences. As increasingly more experiences were being shared, it has become apparent that some students were also abused by other students at IRS. Anecdotal reports have suggested that this phenomenon of student-to-student abuse has a number of important implications related to the individual and collective well-being of Survivors and their communities. In response to these informal reports and to the lack of existing evidence on this issue, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation initiated the current exploratory research project aimed at gaining a greater understanding of this issue and its long-term consequences. To do this, qualitative interviews were conducted with service providers who had worked with IRS Survivors. In general, student-to-student abuse was perceived as being very common in IRS, with emotional and physical abuse in the form of bullying having occurred on a daily basis. Sexual abuse between students was not perceived to be a daily occurrence, but there were exceptions, and it was not perceived as being uncommon. Although the full report addressed a number of additional research questions, the current presentation will report on service provider perceptions related to whether or not those who were victimized by other students exhibit any different or additional features relative to those abused by staff. Differences in levels of trust toward specific groups/types of people were reported, with staff abuse being associated more with mistrust toward religion, people in authoritative positions, and non-Aboriginal people in general. In contrast, student-to-student abuse was linked more with mistrust toward other Aboriginal people. Being abused by other students was also suggested to have made students more likely to internalize the negative messages received by staff about Aboriginal peoples and culture: being heathen, dirty and savage. Service providers also discussed collective effects of IRSs and student-to-student abuse at the community level, including the perceived link with "lateral violence."  Participants indicated that family feuding, bullying and gossiping pervades relationships in some communities, and that lateral violence is a problem that needs to be acknowledged and addressed in order to accelerate individual and community healing.

Joseph P. Gone, University of Michigan - Historical Trauma, Therapy Culture, and the Indigenous Boarding School Legacy

Indigenous communities in North America have consistently associated their disproportionate rates of psychiatric distress with historical experiences of European colonization. This emphasis on the socio-psychological legacy of colonization has occasioned increasingly widespread consideration of what has been termed "historical trauma" within Native contexts. One oft-cited exemplar of colonial subjugation is the Indian residential/boarding school. Such schools were overtly designed to “kill the Indian and save the man,” sequestering Indian children from family and community while forbidding participation in Native language and cultural practices. In Canada, redress for the legacy of the residential school system included the creation of an Aboriginal Healing Foundation that disbursed millions of dollars for First Nations healing projects. Although innovative in important ways, such projects also drew on globalized facets of “therapy culture.” But is therapy culture properly suited for remedying the ills of contemporary Indigenous societies?

Stéphane Dandeneau, Université de Montréal - Franco-Métis Resilience: “Comme des tiques, on tough encore comme des vrais diggins”

As part of a discussion on the concept of “resilience” during an intergenerational focus group with respondents from St-Laurent, a small Métis community in Southern Manitoba, a participant enthusiastically exclaimed: “Ben… c’t’un diggin!” (Well, he’s a “diggin”!). Following the comment, the entire group burst out laughing and communally agreed that the word “diggin” was their perfect word to refer to a resilient person. In addition to Métis from St-Laurent, we investigated individual and communal perspectives of resilience by interviewing young adults, adults, and elder Métis living in urban and rural areas with key informant interviews, focus groups, and individual interviews. By focusing our discussion on individual and communal ways people have faced and continue to face their challenges, we identified key resilience processes that link three generations of Franco-Métis: poverty, discrimination, identity, and “caméléonage social” (social chameleoning). Through stories and laughter, I wish to share with you our Métis Stories of Resilience.

Arlene Laliberté, UQO - Gaining Understanding of Well-being and Building Capacity: Listening to the Voices of Aboriginal Youth

In the context of colonisation and oppression, Aboriginal youth have had a difficult time developing their identity and their roles within their community. Statistics reveal Indigenous disadvantage across many socio-economic domains. The ensuing poor psychosocial status of Aboriginal Canadians is equally apparent. Despite disturbing statistics and heightened risk for negative outcomes, little scientific information has been gathered to enable a greater understanding of the specific worldview and needs of Aboriginal adolescents. The objective of this presentation is to share some preliminary results of a Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) project aiming to learn more about Canadian Aboriginal youth’s concepts of well-being as well as the larger context in which this is developed, fostered and/or hindered. This CPBR project used Photovoice, an empowering methodology to examine youth’s concepts of well-being. This presentation also aims to use this experience to discuss broader CBPR issues, obstacles and “best practices” in order to share knowledge on bottom-up initiatives of community capacity building toward structural changes for more equality.

Michel Tousignant, UQAM - Parental Care in Three First Nations Settings and Vulnerability to Youth Suicidal Behaviour

Parental care is an important risk factor in suicide youth and among Aboriginal communities. The parent-child relationship has also to be interpreted in the context of the historical and ecological background. This research addresses the family environment of the modern Aboriginal families in three contexts, reserve, small town, metropolitan, to verify if the situation with regard to negligence and abuse is improving and if the next generation of youth will be more protected mental health problems and suicidality. Results: Aboriginal families from the metropolitan areas report less problems than the reserve group, with the small town group in-between. But the prevalence of problems is high in the three settings. Other factors in the ecological environment of the family contribute to the children’s vulnerability, the school environment and the peer-group and the security of public spaces. It is also easier to isolate the family from undesirable influences in a city than on the reserve. Discussion: Vulnerabilty of children is likely to stay high in the reserve and also in the two other settings. Initiatives should be taken at the family level but with the perspective of empowering the parents rather than consider them passive recipients. Prevention should focus on ecological factors such as housing, continuing education and job market as well as familial such as adolescent motherhood and child-care services.

Gerald McKinley, Western University - Discourses on Language: Comparing Language Retention and Suicide Data in Ontario First Nation's Communities

Drawing on my ongoing research into patterns of First Nations youth suicide in Ontario, this paper explores language as a protective factor against suicide. Contrary to the findings of Chandler and Lalonde in British Columbia, Ontario data provided by the Office of the Chief Coroner demonstrates an inconsistent relationship between suicide rates and language retention in this province. Using a mix of quantitative and qualitative data, I explore language within two discourses: language as pride and language as shame (McCarty et al 2006). Comparing the Ontario research to examples from the Native Language Shift and Retention Study, I argue that it is in the differences between these two discourses that resilience is located. This allows for a reframing of Chandler and Lalonde’s important work in terms of autonomy, as Kirmayer et al. (2007) established. From this position, I argue for a more complex role for language in suicide prevention programming.

Vanessa Currie, Nenan Dane zaa Deh Zona Child and Family Services - Traditional Decision Making in Contemporary Child Welfare: Relying on Dane-zaa Laws to Care for and Protect Children and Families

Laurence J. Kirmayer, McGill University - Cultural Adaptation for Mental Health Promotion with Aboriginal Populations

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