Since the dawn of Canada as we've now come to know, since First Contact with Indigenous Peoples and established first with the arrival of our European ancestors, all Canadians have allowed through our ignorance continued acts of cultural genocide towards our Indigenous Peoples.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has graciously defined the issue for us with total, undeniable clarity:
"Physical genocide is the mass killing of the members of a targeted group, and biological genocide is the destruction of the group’s reproductive capacity. Cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden, and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. And, most significantly to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next."
After a six-year investigation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report concluded:
"The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to aboriginal people and gain control over their lands and resources. If every aboriginal person had been 'absorbed into the body politic,' there would be no reserves, no treaties and no aboriginal rights."
The international legal definition of genocide is found in Articles II and III of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Article II describes two elements of the crime:
1) the mental element, meaning the "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such", and
2) the physical element which includes five acts described in sections a, b, c, d and e. A crime must include both elements to be called "genocide."
Article III, describes five punishable forms of the crime of genocide:
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide;
Commissioners have publicly stated that the Government of Canada, and numerous representative institutions of the Christian Church, are complicit in carrying out such acts. Justice Murray Sinclair, in a recently published article, provides his vision directly for Canadians to consider, moving forward as a nation now empowered with a full representation of the truth. To embark fully on our forward journey together, it's evident now we must accept the full perspective of the issues, as outlined in the Executive Summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Report.
What does this have to do with trauma? This issue has everything to do with trauma, and with a collective need for all Canadians to enter into a period of recovery from this trauma if our nation is to find healing, and full reconciliation.
Any one of us can relate to the suffering our Indigenous People are still living. We know for instance the pain of losing our place in society, particularly if we were once a soldier or first responder. Our employers, peers, governments and the society at large, stigmatizes mental illness. Our own families are lost and unable to accept and recognize our enhanced need for unconditional loving care, and continued direct support through our recovery.
Therefore, because we know what it means inside to live the additional horror of abandonment, at the bequest of our fellow man, we know full-well the pain involved in this issue. Our Indigenous Peoples know this form of human suffering better than any of us. It is a suffering inflicted so deeply upon the human soul. There is nothing worse than to feel less-than in our world, while the rest of society seemingly moves through life effortlessly, striving individually for status as the best. It is a pain most of us here remain unfortunate enough to daily expect. We continue to experience stigmatization, each and every day.
We can preach all we want about the nature of a victim vs. hero mentality in our personal lives. It's clearly evident our Indigenous Peoples are victims of institutional violence imposed with power, and with intent of cultural destruction fully accompanying this ill-intent. We're fully aware that we've allowed our trauma to place us throughout our lives somewhat in a victim's role. Frankly, we need no further reminders of this fact.
Some of us have mistakenly bedded down with our rescuers, and felt the pain when our apparent helpers become our persecutors, often giving up on our ability to recover out of mutually celebrated, misguided, and co-dependent practices of our own. Until we become fully aware of this fact, we are left to live with the patterns in our past-lives filled with lies. There is no difference in the revelations of historical trauma upon our Indigenous Peoples, now before us in full light.
When it comes to this issue, as it is with all adult-persons still struggling with the childhood pain of emotional, physical or sexual abuse, we all can relate to living as an adult-child, wanting desperately to grow up, unable (alone) to find our way. The trauma within our Indigenous Peoples is childhood trauma, the most painful and difficult for any adult-child victim (even as physically grown adults) to fully understand. Many of us have suffered this same trauma, laid upon us in the sacred sanctity of our childhood homes.
Our Indigenous Peoples were institutionally abused, with institutional violence towards them still permeating Canadian Society. Our system of tribal reservations testifies to this truth. The truth of Residential Schools and abuse, outlined in the report, establishes for us only a beginning of the healing-work all in our nation must now employ.
Where we once all thought we were alone with our experience of trauma, the entire country is now with us. To take the issue seriously, we must accept that every Canadian today rides in the exact same, trauma-ridden, rusty boat. We must accept that we individually have a role to play in our collective healing.
If we review any comments attached to articles in social media on the issue, we see a slight hint that this truth comes to the nation as no surprise. The majority of the comments, however, reflect not only revelation, but along with this truth, reflections of a national shame. Such traumatic issues, to be fully addressed, we know from experience can not harbor any shame. Over the years in my own struggle I've resorted to shaming the perpetrators of harm in my own life publicly. I can say from experience, this only serves to shut issues completely down, resulting in spinning-wheels in the mud of continued discontent.
As with our own trauma issues in many work-related cases, the government in this case has had ample opportunity to represent the issue with integrity. Although we received an apology from the Canadian government, and from all leaders of political parties in 2008, the actions in this case speak much louder than these words.
Again, perhaps we can relate. We've all made promises we were unable later to keep, and had promises broken towards ourselves many times. Recovery from trauma is like that. We feel strong one minute, and weak again the next. It takes daily practice for us to ultimately get our recovery right. What we see in terms of action from our government, however, all action beyond the original apology was evidently intended for us to remain, status quo.
'Change is difficult, but change is necessary'. I hate using this man's verbiage, but this is a quote from Horaldo Rivera from a time when his popularity allowed exposure of abuse of persons with disabilities living behind stone walls in a U.S. institution, another school of so-called care named, Willowbrook. As was the situation for many persons with intellectual challenges not that long ago, the Residential Schools housing aboriginal children proved wrought with much of the exact same abuse.
We've moved beyond institutional care for the developmentally disabled. Let's hope, with time, we can establish a new way of life for our Indigenous Peoples, by simply allowing a revival of the lives we all so unconsciously threw away.
Trauma such as this, whipped upon victims with continued institutional violence will likely take generations to heal. Historical and inter-generational trauma results from the forms of abuse imposed upon humans forced to live disconnected from a society they did not ask for, nor can they ever likely fully understand. That the cultural soul of our Indigenous People has survived, is testimony to the resilience we all need to find to manage ourselves emotionally throughout all the tragedies we collectively face in human life.
We've been handed a new scepter of challenge from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. One that we dare not now attempt to ever hand back. The challenge we're collectively asked to accept is one of entering together into a collective choice. We've 94 recommendations to consider. We have a choice now to accept the scepter, and embark on a journey to heal together-this now is what we all must choose to do.
As is the case in our personal relationships, trauma challenges us deeply to accept our personal responsibility for any continued violence we impose, upon ourselves and upon the hearts of those in our lives with whom we share love. As is the case with our individual trauma, on this issue of national pain, it is only love that will conquer the demon in our midst. We know what it means to our survival, to accept recovery as our daily plan. Some of us have been loved through it. May we all in this case, humbly accept the need to do the same.
Let's hope the nation takes heed, against the demon of national shame now frightfully yet fully exposed. Survival, is one thing. Choosing to thrive is, for most of us, something entirely new. Should we choose to run away from this, may the Creator of all, have mercy on our collective soul.
Honoring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015.
Historic Trauma and Aboriginal Healing: The Aboriginal Foundation Research Series, 2004.
The International Alliance To End Genocide: What is Genocide, 2015.
Extra Credit, Kill the Indian to Save the Child, Neonatal Rights, 2012.
The Residential School System, UBC Indigenous Foundations, 2015.
Residential Schools Apology / Excuses pensionnats indiens: Youtube Channel, The Prime Minister of Canada.
Unforgotten: Twenty-Five Years After Willowbrook, FilmRise, 2014.
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 9 December 1948.
Certified: Community & Workplace Trauma Educator Traumatology Institute.
Associate Member American Academy Of Experts In Traumatic Stress.