Woman Warriors Newsletter

Digital Storytelling: Addressing the Legacy of Indian Residential Schools & Intergenerational Healing

This research paper is original, unpublished, independent work by the author, Shelley Wiart. The research outlined in this paper is covered by Ethics File number 23355, issued by the Athabasca University Research Ethics Board (AUREB) for the project “Digital Storytelling as an Indigenous Women’s Health Advocacy Tool: Empowering Indigenous Women to Frame Their Health Stories” on March 25, 2020. This research also received a Northwest Territories Scientific Research License number 16553, issued by the Aurora Research Institute on May 29, 2019. Any use of this publication must have prior permission from the author. All Women Warriors content is copyrighted.

DST Process Understanding the legacy of Indian Residential Schools

The original intention of this digital storytelling research was to learn about Indigenous women’s traditional knowledge and healing practices, and to help them conceptualize and communicate about their own health stories and service needs. In my ethics application, I did not mention residential schools or exploring the legacy of residential schools. Yet, every one of my co-creators wanted to talk about how residential school had impacted their families. Through this process I learned that Indigenous women are still healing from the legacy of residential schools and we need more safe spaces to talk about it. Also, we need more tools for intergenerational healing for families impacted by the legacy of residential schools. The digital storytelling process became the healing tool and the method of praxis for residential school survivors and the second generation to share their stories.

The following is an excerpt from my research findings on the digital storytelling (DST) Indigenous knowledge translation themes and discussions:

Table 3: Digital Storytelling – Indigenous Knowledge Translation Themes

  1. Storytellers self directed knowledge translation & implementation

– DST as a tool of community healing 

– DST as a tool of intergenerational family healing

– DST as a tool of education on the legacy of IRS and intergenerational healing

– DST as decolonization

– Orange shirt day public schools to teach
younger generations about the legacy of
IRS and reconciliation
– A free resource from the perspective of the
Indigenous community member
– A tribute to FN/Metis/Inuit residential school survivors
– Opening familial space for IRS survivors +
their family members

– Halo effect (one person heals their trauma
and shares their resources +teachings with
other family members)

– Personalized education for specific
communities (not a pan-Indigenous experience of IRS)
– A tool to teach fellow employees about
IRS+ reconciliation – ally ship in the work

– Strength based narrative featuring cultural
pride, cultural continuity + cultural
– Generational shifts of Indigenous women
proud of their culture, teachings,
resiliency + revitalization of culture

A storyteller stated about the process of digital storytelling that involved exploring her mother’s residential school attendance.

I definitely have more of an understanding of the impacts of residential school. Because I do work at Onion Lake First Nations, so I do have more empathy for – I call them my people, because they are my people. We’re Cree and I’m originally from there, so I do have a lot of empathy for families that have been impacted by traumas.”

One storyteller, whose digital story featured her grandparents (both residential school survivors) and the strong cultural practices they passed down to her, shared the importance of screening her story with her grandmother.

And then at the end of the project I showed my grandmother and she was so proud, and tears in her eyes, and I was like, “Wow.” So I was actually grateful at the end of the video to be part of it. She said that because I was young and to practice the culture and, you know, taking part in it, like just participating in it. And because I was involved, even like when she does her traditional food I would just sit there and watch, you know, even though I didn’t have hands-on learning, but sitting there watching, like you learn from those.

I suggest this cultural pride and sharing of asset-based stories is part of a generational shift from being ashamed of Indigenous identity as residential school survivors to being publically proud of cultural continuity and revitalization within familial lines. It also serves to encourage Indigenous communities to embrace their traditional knowledge and reclaim cultural practices, promote positive Indigenous identity, and acts as a form of self-determination.

One storyteller conducted a self-directed knowledge translation event in her home community showing her digital story about her family’s legacy of Indian Residential School at Orange Shirt Day[1]on September 30th, 2019.

I shared in Fishing Lake Métis Settlement, my home settlement and then Frog Lake First Nations, where my mom was registered and I’m registered there now too. So, I belong to Frog Lake First Nations. Yeah, so it was very powerful. Especially when I went to Frog Lake, because a lot of my relatives, my mom’s family, went to after the residential school my grandmother left Onion Lake Reserve and they all transferred to Frog Lake First Nations. So, it was very powerful taking it back to my home and my roots there in Frog Lake where a lot of people were – like her family was impacted by the residential school system. Like my uncles that lived in Frog Lake.

She stated that doing her own knowledge translation in her community was more impactful for her personally than the Indigeous knowledge translation event, Legacy: Indigenous Women’s Health Stories in Yellowknife. She used her digital story as an educational tool on the legacy of IRS and to commemorate her own community’s residential school survivors including her mother.

I felt it was a greater impact when I took it to the school, because it was different. Because the young kids were being educated, like the younger generation was being educated about the residential school system and then actually being able – Like I shared some of the pictures of the sites, the residential school how it looked before, on that St Barnabas site and then how it looks now. So it kind of brought it to life to see this actually did happen and it was a difficult time in history for our people.

I suggest that her knowledge translation event for her community could be part of a larger truth and reconciliation project. On reserve schools could host digital storytelling workshops for their students to explore their personal history of IRS and the intergenerational impacts it continues to have in their communities.


Orange shirt day is held on September 30th every year to commemorate the residential school experience, to witness and honour the healing journey of the survivors and their families, and to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation. We purchased our Orange Shirts from local Indigenous business, Unisex Adults $35 Kids $25. Last day to order is September 28th. A portion of the proceeds donated to the Log Church Food Bank, Onion Lake Cree Nation.


Please click on the picture to view Maxine’s story, Fragmented. Maxine standing by the gates of St. Barnabas Indian Residential School located on Onion Lake Cree Nation, (Treaty 6 territory) on what is now the Saskatchewan/Alberta border. Onion Lake Cree Nation is located approximately fifty kilometres north of the City of Lloydminster.

DISCLAIMER: All of the digital storytelling participants have either attended residential school or their parents and/or grandparents have attended residential school. These stories have the potential to be triggering for IRS survivors and their family members. Please access the Mental Health Resources located here or call the IRS Crisis Helpline (phone number located below).

Maxine self-identifies as Métis and was raised on Fishing Lake Métis Settlement (Treaty 6 territory). Her mother was Cree/Scottish and her father was Cree/French. Her mother was registered with Frog Lake First Nations, however, when she married Maxine’s father she lost her treaty rights. Later in life Maxine became a band member of Frog Lake First Nation after her mother regained her status. She is an ordained Minister, a mother to four adult children, and a grandmother to three.

Maxine created her digital story entitled, Fragmented after visiting the residential school site where her mother, Christina Emma Quinney attended. Her digital story is about the legacy of including intergenerational trauma and the impacts it had on her own life including addictions issues, family suicide, and intimate partner violence. She shares the reasons why Indigenous people may wait too long to seek medical interventions.

Upcoming Speaking Engagements & Conferences

September 29th - October 2nd: The 2020 Ełèts’ehdèe-Katimaqatigiit-Nihkhah Łatr’iljil theme is Climate Change, Human Health, and Youth. The online event will be held Sept. 29-Oct. 2, 2020. This annual gathering is organized by Hotii t'seeda (NWT Spor Unit) and co-hosted by the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and the Tłı̨chǫ Government. I was invited to attend this event because I am a recipient of the Researcher Capacity Development (RCD) Award for my digital storytelling research.

October/November: AbSPORU Virtual Institute 2020, to be held online from October 13th to November 20th, 2020. I will be presenting on Decolonizing Health Care: Indigenous Digital Storytelling as Pedagogical Tool for Cultural Safety in Health Care Settings. 
November 17th: Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) November 16th-20th, 2020. Our panel, Covid-19 and Global Indigenous Health Inequity: A Holistic Life Cycles Approach to Systems Change is scheduled for Tuesday, November 17th 12:30–2:00 pm MST. Please view our panel on the CSPC program.

Recent Media Interviews:

  1. Go the Distance podcast (September 2020)– Athabasca University.
  2. Sickboy Podcast 252 (August 2020)- Women Warriors: Advocating for Indigenous Women’s Health.