Why I Dedicated the Second Season of the Women Warriors Podcast to Healing.
The first time I heard a residential school survivor speak was March of 2009 in my class at the University of Alberta Native Studies 380/Women Studies 494: Challenging Racism and Stereotypes. It is a vivid memory because I was pregnant with my first child, and I had just learned at my 20-week ultrasound that I was having a girl.
It was the first time she shared her story in public. Our instructor must have guaranteed a safe space with compassionate ears since our whole class, 12 of us were Indigenous women.
She was removed from her home at the age of 8 where she remained until graduation at age 16. She married a non-Indigenous man at age 18 and immediately became pregnant. I will never forget what she said next, and I paraphrase, “I did not know how to love. I did not know how to show intimacy to my baby girl. I had not been hugged or kissed as a child, except when I was sexually abused, and I did not know what love felt or looked like.” She never bonded with her children and her husband never understood why she was a “bad” mother. She never told her husband the truth of residential school and what had been taken from her.
It was only when I gave birth to my daughter five months later that I understood the impact of her loss. I also started to understand how intergenerational trauma is carried from parent to child. In this academic article, Intergenerational Trauma: Convergence of Multiple Processes among First Nations people in Canada, p.16 figure 1 shows how adverse childhood experiences are passed from one generation to the next. Furthermore, the field of epigenetics has proven trauma can be passed through our DNA. The article ‘Trauma May be Woven Into DNA of Native Americans’ makes the connection between trauma and physical illness:
“it suggests that our genes can carry memories of trauma experienced by our ancestors and can influence how we react to trauma and stress. The Academy of Pediatrics reports that the way genes work in our bodies determines neuroendocrine structure and is strongly influenced by experience. [Neuroendocrine cells help the nervous and endocrine (hormonal) system work together to produce substances such as adrenaline (the hormone associated with the fight or flight response.] Trauma experienced by earlier generations can influence the structure of our genes, making them more likely to “switch on” negative responses to stress and trauma.
Also, Indigenous peoples health disparities can be linked to colonization:
“According to researchers, high rates of addiction, suicide, mental illness, sexual violence and other ills among Native peoples might be, at least in part, influenced by historical trauma. Bonnie Duran, associate professor in the Department of Health Services at the University of Washington School of Public Health and Director for Indigenous Health Research at the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute says, “Many present-day health disparities can be traced back through epigenetics to a “colonial health deficit,” the result of colonization and its aftermath.”
In that same course, we were presented with an academic article, The Embodiment of Inequity: Health Disparities in Aboriginal Canada where research showed that Indigenous peoples had a “disproportionate burden of ill health and social suffering.” I wish I could say that since that article, March/April 2005, we have made significant progress in closing the gaps in Indigenous health, but they have increased.
What makes that article memorable to me is my fellow classmates reaction to it. She was Inuit from the Northwest Territories taking her Bachelor of Arts degree in Native Studies. As the professor went around our circle of desk asking us what we thought of the article, she started to cry. She stated that she had tried to read the whole article the night before but quit three pages in when she read this stat, “As of 1990, Inuit men (57.6) and men living on-reserve (62) have the lowest life expectancy of all the Aboriginal populations.” (S49).
It was a reality check for me that research on Indigenous peoples in the form of charts, stats, data in general compiled in Western ways of thinking – cold, hard facts was not helping us.
The most important concept in this article was, “We must come to understand that conventional clinical approached may not fit well with traditional Indigenous values or with the realities of contemporary settlement or urban life.” Also, “we need to rethink the applicability of different models of intervention from the perspective of local community values and aspirations. Indeed, if we are to understand “healing as the rebuilding of nations” and as a process of de-colonization, then we must find ways by which health can be effectively articulated at the levels of individual, family, community and nation.”
Grassroots healing. We hear it from Indigenous communities all the time – they know what they need in order to heal. This CBC article, “These are our children’: Sexual abuse and suicide rate among Indigenous youth” is one of the many examples of Indigenous peoples stating that “it’s about healing these communities and giving them the opportunity to do that work together. And that means putting the resources in the right places.”
When I started my first Women Warriors program in June of 2015 I wanted to create a healing space for Indigenous women. I literally said it in the first video I made about our program on our Youtube channel.
Two years later, 8 programs completed, over 100 hundred graduates here are my lessons:
*Disclaimer – I am not a professionally trained researcher or mental health therapist.
- The western, colonial medical system is failing Indigenous people.
- Racism is everywhere including the medical system, and it’s preventing Indigenous people from getting quality medical care.
- The western medical system fails to treat trauma.
- Our communities are suffering from unresolved grief and intergenerational trauma.
- There needs to be a baseline understanding of the effects of colonization for everyone.
- There is a lack of culturally appropriate services including mental health supports.
- Women need help connecting with existing health resources.
- Women need help learning to be their own best advocates in the health system.
- There is a migration of Indigenous peoples from reserves to urban centers, and they cannot access traditional or on the land cultural practices for healing.
- There needs to be more emphasis on mind/body/spirit connection and healing.
- Indigenous healing must be community driven. There is not a one-size fits all plan.
These lessons have led me to researching Indigenous ways of healing. I like this CBC interview with Don Burnstick, a popular Indigenous comedian in which he states, “There are four really important parts to the healing process, based on what the elders have told me. There’s prayer, sharing, crying, and laughing. If you do those four things, you will heal over hardship, loss, and grief.”
I have invited 8 amazing Indigenous women from across Canada to the second season of the Women Warriors podcast to tell their stories. There will be prayer, sharing, crying, and laughter.