Tuesday, February 20, 2018

NAMH 2017 - Reverberations

I want to briefly return to Dawn's parents initially saying they didn't have it so bad compared to others. There are reasons that could be true.

For one thing, Dawn's mother only attended for two years, when she was already a teenager (probably a big part of her being able to speak Cree). That put her in the path of the abuse for a much shorter time than other students.

Without it being specified, I am guessing that it was possible for her to spend most of her childhood at home because it was getting closer to our time, and some of the policies for killing the Indian inside the child were loosening their grip. This also makes it very likely that older generations could have suffered more, in general.

Another thing she did mention was not getting beaten for attempting to run away, and being glad she hadn't gone with the girls who tried. Clearly, failure to comply could lead to greater suffering, but greater suffering may have made it harder to comply. The students who tried running may have had worse homesickness or a harder time with schoolwork or other things that made staying at the school less tolerable.

Dawn's father had a humorous memory about how long you could stay in a closet, hiding from a beating by the older boys. He was able to successfully hide, but beatings were still a danger, and not from the priest.

Granted, older kids can bully younger kids at any school, but that it was an environment where the children did not have a lot of power and were in the middle of structural racism could be the kind of thing that led to more abuse. Not every child was raped by priests or nuns, but a system where you could be raped and then be told that's all you're good for is not a set up to inspire kindness and mutual respect.

It is also easy to assume that the mass graves and the hidden individual graves are part of an earlier time, but as recently as 2011 there was interference with investigations, and still living witnesses about some of the deaths that would have been hidden.


Those are all things that are hard, but the thing that kept getting repeated the most is that multiple generations didn't know how to parent. They were taken from the parents who loved them for an education by people who despised them. They were unsure how to show affection to their own children after that, even if they didn't pick up any other demons.

You can see how some of the residential school abuse might result in parents who were likely to be physically abusive or sexually abusive, or that they might have reasons to abuse substances, like alcohol. That's the stereotype, right? Indians tend to become alcoholics because they didn't have the genetic background of years of becoming accustomed to alcohol that built up resistance to alcoholism.

This makes sense because alcohol abuse is so rare among people of European descent, and because there was no history of Indians being systematically killed and relocated and setting down roots only to be uprooted again and again, each time to a place with fewer resources where starvation on the land was likely and getting off the land was not allowed, and then they started separating families.


Dawn's mother frequently left her father because of his drinking. They would keep reuniting, bound by love and children. It would be easy to think that her loving him more if he could speak Cree was a joke, but what would it mean?

If her father could speak Cree, would that mean that he had spent more time with his own family? Would it mean that he had spent more of his formative years where his heritage was valued instead of seen as something to be stamped out?

If the residential schools hadn't been part of his growing up, would he still have the drinking problem?

Once you set damage like that into motion, where does it end? You can't always control results.

And in this case that's a good thing; the goal to eliminate the Indians - physically or culturally - was abominable and it failed. It still caused a lot of pain, and much of that pain is still there.

How do you fix that?

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