Intergenerational trauma is the transference of negative consequences experienced by first-generation trauma survivors due to historical oppression, to their offspring and younger generations. This word captures the essence of the trauma experienced by Indigenous communities throughout Canada due to the hardships and difficulties they have had to face throughout our country’s history. The concept of intergenerational trauma is instilled within the offspring of Indigenous peoples of Canada due to years of systematic oppression and assimilation, most notably within government-issued Indian residential schools.
These government-issued Indigenous Residential schools ripped children away from their families and communities in attempts to carry out a cultural genocide. The amount of unconventional abuse experienced within these schools forced the children to endure waves of discrimination, abuse, and maltreatment, which fundamentally aided in the installation of intergenerational fear within the offspring of these survivors. Not only did the individuals who attended the schools endure heinous treatment, but they also carried over their traumatic experience to their descendants who are now negatively affected by a situation they have no control over. As a society, we must understand that it was not just the methods of discrimination employed by employees within the schools against Indigenous people that instilled intergenerational trauma throughout Indigenous communities. It was also the implementation of an intrinsically racist system meant to eradicate the entirety of Indigenous culture in order to instill a new Euro-Canadian culture amongst the population.
"Not only did the individuals who attended the schools endure heinous treatment, but they also carried over their traumatic experience to their descendants who are now negatively affected by a situation they have no control over."
The Indigenous community’s image is warped by false imagery when listening to the recollections of the events that happened through the eyes of the settlers, serving an injustice to the perspective of the Indigenous people who experienced it firsthand. By believing the settler’s perspective of the past, people can be misled into thinking that Indigenous people are helpless and unstable. This mindset shows how colonialism can be attributed to the effects of intergenerational trauma as the colonizers shape contemporary societies' ideology to believe in false myths about Indigenous communities that simply do not exist, such as myths of savagery or dead cultures.
The Indigenous community experiences discrimination because the “settler’s ideology” sets the tone within the social and economic fields of Canada, littering them with racial undertones and rationalizing the unequal treatment of the Indigenous. This is seen through the difference in statistics in what should be regular situations. While being in a store, an Indigenous person has a 10% higher chance of being racially profiled and discriminated against for as simple of a reason as skin colour than someone who is not Indigenous. This shows how racial inequality is ingrained within our society as people are led to discriminate against others by accepting the image of these people provided to us through the “settler’s ideology”. The way the system is set up allows for the mistreatment of Indigenous people to be normalized, like the profiling within a store, as it is set up in the best interests of those who created it; in this case, the racist colonizers. This also reveals that the system does not just aim to negatively affect one individual but rather the entire community collectively.
"This is seen through the difference in statistics in what should be regular situations. While being in a store, an Indigenous person has a 10% higher chance of being racially profiled and discriminated against for as simple of a reason as skin colour than someone who is not Indigenous, even though they could both be doing the same thing."
This idea of intergenerational trauma must be addressed and accounted for whenever we consider the Indigenous community in Canada. It must be considered when looking at the over-representation of the Indigenous community within the criminal justice system. It must be acknowledged when making prejudicial racial remarks towards members of Indigenous communities. And it must be understood by those in power in order to make effective changes for Indigenous communities. By understanding and acknowledging the negative consequences of their actions, the Canadian government can take proper steps in repairing the intergenerational trauma they caused through their genocidal actions.
Members of society can also improve their knowledge of Indigenous culture to ensure that the rest of the population better understands the situations of the Indigenous peoples. By having an understanding of Indigenous culture from their perspective, we can seek to mobilize movements that can help in repairing the negative effects of colonialism experienced in Canada. Ways that an increased sense of knowledge can help the Indigenous community include highlighting groups such as MMIWG (Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls). All in all, by addressing the actions which lead to intergenerational trauma in countless Indigenous families, we can only begin to start trying to repair the relationships we maintain with the Indigenous community of Canada.
Written By: Isaiah Scipio