Suicide and Healing: Aboriginals Overcoming the Hardships and Barriers Aboriginal peoples have had to endure many tragedies throughout history, which has affected them emotionally and mentally. It is no wonder that this group of people are amongst the highest suicide rates in Canada (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1995). This is a look at those tragedies and how it is tied in with suicide, also mechanisms used by Aboriginals to start the healing process. Definition of Suicide amongst Aboriginals Suicide and its roots in Aboriginal communities is said to be one of the many outcomes of colonialism and are matters of great concern.
The impact of someone dying from suicide affects the family and the community. Many contributing factors of suicide and its attempts in both Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal are as followed: sexual abuse, family violence, solvent abuse, addictions, lack of proper leadership, deterioration of family structure, etc. Studies have shown that the rate of suicide of all age groups amongst Aboriginals is 2 to 3 times higher than compared to the rate of non-Aboriginals. When it comes to the youth it is 5 to 6 times higher.
This could be due to the fact that Aboriginal communities are so close knit that when one commits suicide it causes a ripple effect. That being said we must take into consideration that, “suicide is not just a problem in itself, but the symptom of deeper problems” (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1995, p. 2). Residential Schools In the early 19th century the Canadian government took it upon themselves to educate and care for the Aboriginal peoples. They thought that the best way in doing so was to assimilate Aboriginals with Christian beliefs, the English language and Canadian customs.
Their idea was that Aboriginals would take their adoptive lifestyle and teach it to their children, with the notion that the native traditions and practices would be diminished or completely abolished within a few generations. The Canadian government felt that children were easier to mold than an adult (N. A. , 2010). They wished to minimize the amount of contact a child had with his or her parents and elders, so Aboriginal children were forced to relocate off reserve to a boarding school. Here the children would learn how to survive in mainstream society, and forget who they were and what their culture had taught them.
The schools were not geared toward academics, but sought to train them in manual labour and industrial work. These Aboriginal children were forced to live, work and learn in unsafe conditions; due to the fact that facilities were not up to par, and the cheapest of supplies were used to erect the buildings (Kirmayer et al. , 2007). The church officials used punishment to humiliate, undermine and cause pain to the children. For instance, upon arriving at the residential school the children were assigned numbers that would identify them and given severe haircuts; hair has tremendous symbolism in many Aboriginal cultures.
Many of the children were sexually abused, and in most cases it did not stay closeted in the residential schools, but made its way back to the communities where the victims would then become the perpetrators (Kirmayer et al. , 2007). Indian agents saw the Aboriginals extended family living as unfit and unnatural, and sought to shape them into a ‘normal’ nuclear family. Aboriginal children were taking from their homes and placed in residential schools, which were usually located a significant distance off reserve. This made it nearly impossible for the families to visit one another.
The children were allowed to write letters in order to keep in contact with their family, but the letters were looked over by the school officials to ensure no complaints were being made about their harsh treatment. This form of assimilation had a harsh impact on aboriginal community, culture and society. It also took a toll on the parenting practices amongst many of the Aboriginal peoples (Kirmayer et al. , 2007). Impacts of Residential Schools When the law that allowed government officials to take Aboriginal children out of their communities passed, the effects were tragic.
Many of the surviving adults are still tremendously traumatised, that they find being a good parent and community member troublesome (Alberta Health, 1995). The amount of abuse that Aboriginal children had to endure during those dark times has been connected to the current suffering of their communities. A lot have turned to alcohol and other substances to deal with their pain; this in turn causes dysfunctional family units and communities. Many of the former students cannot speak their languages and more or less feel too ashamed to teach it to their own children.
This is because the staff took it upon themselves to punish ever child who acted or spoke like an ‘Indian’. When the children returned home there was a communication failure with their elders, because they were too ashamed to speak in their language; reasons stated earlier on. Since they could not communicate to one another the opportunity to respect their elders and learn their language and culture diminished. The gap on communication also led to a rejection of their traditional values and beliefs, because the elders were the teachers of the community.
While attending the school a significant amount of students were victims to sexual abuse at the hands of educators, fellow students and administrators. But, the abuse didn’t stop there the victimized students began internalizing, normalizing and even recreating the sexual abuse within their own communities. They themselves sought the power those of authority once had on them. This in turn added more dysfunction to the family ties with Aboriginal communities. The parents whose children were taken from them felt guilty, like the children blamed them for the reasons they were being taken, they no longer felt needed anymore.
Some may say this is the reason many turned to alcohol and drugs (Kirmayer et al. , 2007). Jealousy and greed were taught in the schools and missions. You fought for bread, you fought for clothes. There was no love involved. You were taken from your family and held in the missions for 10 months straight. The mothers and dads couldn’t exercise their love. Now there are lots of people, who don’t know how to raise kids, because this is what they went through, and that’s what they pass on, because that’s the only thing they know (Alberta Health, 1995, p. 9). The 60’s Scoop
The term Sixties scoop refers to the adoption of Metis and First Nations children that took place during the 1960’s. The name was derived due to the fact that during that decade the number of adoptions that took place in Canada was the highest in its history, in most cases children were literally scooped up from their families and community without the consent of their parents and fellow band members. During this time government officials and social works saw the Aboriginal peoples as unfit and could not adequately provide the children with what they needed.
One of the reasons they thought this was because their houses were not similar to the Euro-Canadian houses for example; children ate wild meat and bannock and rather than having their cupboards stocked full of food, Aboriginals simply hunted and gathered what was needed. Many of the Aboriginals who were affected saw the removal of their children as a deliberate act of cultural genocide (Sinclair, 2011). About 70% of the children taken from their families were placed in non-Aboriginal homes, many of these homes denied them of their heritage and culture.
A vast majority of the foster families told the children they were of a different race such as Italian or French, rather than telling them where they had originally come from. A lot of the children suspected they were of Aboriginal decent, but could not confirm it. This was due to the Government policy that birth records could not be issued unless both the child and parent had given their consent. Many of the children floated from foster family to foster family and never really experienced true stability.
On numerous occasions Aboriginal children went from loving, caring and well intentioned Aboriginal families; to places of slave labour and physical, sexual and emotional abuse. For, abuse of any kind was not uncommon and usually covered up, to hide just how unjust the government was (Hanson, 2009). Impacts of The 60’s Scoop Many of the children experienced marginalization, identity confusion, attachment disorders, emotional emptiness, abuse, self-hatred, racism and even substance addictions. These experiences later affected their family units and communities, because they were taught that this was right.
A study done in Prince Albert penitentiary found that 95% of incarcerated Aboriginals had been in foster care as a child. Also, a vast majority of surviving children are sexually exploited or live on the streets. This tragedy was yet another blow that language and culture amongst Aboriginals peoples had to endure (Kirmayer et al. , 2007). Linking Tragedy to Suicide As stated earlier both of these tragedies have led to further cases of physical and sexual abuse, but there are links between them and the high number of suicides in Aboriginal communities as well. Studies have found hat mental illness, family breakdown and child abuse are higher in those who have experienced these tragedies than those who haven’t. Some of these mental health problems have been diagnosed as residential school syndrome or RSS, some may say that the government spends too much time trying to diagnose them rather than trying to fix the problem. Aboriginal peoples not only suffered during these times, but the long lasting effects still reside with them today. So, Aboriginal peoples are still suffering. In fact, these negative consequences have a substantial impact on Aboriginal families and communities.
Although many have not been able to cope with their pain, some have gone on to live healthy and successful lives. The many types of abuse these children faced have been very traumatic, and studies have shown that separation from families has the severest impact on one’s mental health. Suicide itself is associated with emotional deprivation, separation of families and losses in early life. That being said, when the children were separated from their families and taken from what was familiar to them during both of these tragedies spoken of earlier, they became high risk (Kirmayer et al. 2007). There are 4 families of related factors of suicide within Aboriginal communities, they are: * Psycho-biological factors- which are the various mental disorders linked with suicide. * Life history or situational factors- which are the trauma one faces in early childhood, dysfunctional family, unable to relate or trust both peers and members of authority, absence of spiritual and religious beliefs, imprisonment and substance abuse. * Socio-economic factors- unemployment, poverty, stability, prosperity and low class status. Culture stress- the loss of norms, values and beliefs there were originally to taught to one in their own culture (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1995). Aboriginal Healing Processes Every community and Aboriginal individuals are unique in their own way. But, the beliefs these communities and band members hold are quite similar. In these communities the care and love everyone has for one another is tremendous, they feel a sense of belonging within the larger universe. When looking at any issue within a community the Aboriginal peoples believe that ou can’t just look at one aspect of a person or community, but rather the total person, total community and total environment. In order for a person to be healthy they must take care of themselves as a ‘whole’. For Aboriginal peoples this means that the mind, body, soul and emotional spirits must all work together in order for one to be healthy. They also believe in the circle of life, that in order for the human race to progress we must follow the values of balance and harmony.
Traditional healing is very important in the Aboriginal culture, in fact many traditional healers are now working within hospitals all across Canada. But, there are many hardships facing these healers such as; finances, conflict with hospital staff and even Aboriginals who do not value this approach (Alberta Health, 1995). What happens in one stage of a person’s life is interconnected with every other aspect of his or her life. Although many of the children who survived these above tragedies do not remember what happened or do not wish to think about it, they must try to heal and explore in order to keep on surviving.
As children, there are limited options, but as an adult we have choices to overcome these hardships, whether we choose to or not is totally up to oneself. In order to survive one must follow a positive path and take the following steps into consideration: * Acknowledge that they have been hurt * They must ‘own’ these feelings of hurt and pain. * Explore and try to remember what happened to them. * Learn to share these feelings with people who care and are not judgemental. * Make choices that will help you live in a more positive lifestyle (Mussell et al. 1993). Some may say that the government succeeded in bringing down the Aboriginal peoples, but they are wrong to think that they will stay down. Many Aboriginal peoples have gone on to live happy healthy lives and will continue to teach their children these ways. But, in order for the people to survive we must help and try to live balanced lives free of racism and hate (Alberta Health, 1995). Healthy communities are our greatest resource. But there are barriers that prevent us from experiencing good health and they are often as a result of our own lifestyles.
Most of us have the knowledge of how to enhance our own health but knowing does not always translate into doing. Enhancing our health may require lifestyle change and habit changes, and that is difficult. It is easier to do things that make us feel good if we have resources available and support from those around us and our community (Alberta Health, 1995, p. 68). References Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. (1995). Choosing life: Special report on suicide among Aboriginal people. Ottawa, ON: Canada Communication Group.
Alberta Health. (1995). Strengthening the circle: What Aboriginal Albertans say about their health. Edmonton, AB: Aboriginal Health Unit Alberta Health. Kirmayer, L. J. , Brass, G. M. , Holton, T. , Paul, K. , Simpson, C. , & Tait, C. (2007). Suicide among Aboriginal people in Canada. Ottawa, ON: Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Mussell, W. J. , Nicholls, W. M. , & Adler, M. T. (1993). Making meaning of mental health challenges in First Nations: A Freirean perspective. Chilliwack, B. C. : Sal’I’Shan Institute Society.
Sinclair, R. (2011). Origins Canada: Supporting those separated by adoption; The 60’s scoop. Retrieved from http://www. originscanada. org/the-stolen-generation/ N. A. (2008, May, 16). Residential schools: A history of residential schools in Canada. Retrieved from http://www. cbc. ca/news/canada/story/2008/05/16/f-faqs-residential-schools. html Hanson, E. (2009). Sixties Scoop: The sixties scoop & Aboriginal child welfare. Retrieved from http://indigenousfoundations. arts. ubc. ca/home/government-policy/sixties-scoop. html