Lasting Trauma Among Aboriginal Peoples

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Table of Contents

  • Impacts on Following Generations
  • Historical Trauma in History
  • Conclusion

Throughout history, especially in the 19th century, Aboriginal people have faced traumatic events orchestrated by the Canadian government. This was based on a belief that Indians were uncivilized and were inferior to the White people (Bombay, Matheson, & Anisman, 2014).The main goal was to civilize and “kill” the Indian culture to gain control of them. One of the ways they tried to meet this goal was by using Indian Residential Schools (IRS). Aboriginal children were removed from their homes as children and placed in schools. They were forced to learn English and were forbidden from practicing any aspect of their culture. These traumatic experiences have not only impacted their victims, but the generations following. This paper will explore the key impacts that intergenerational IRS trauma among Aboriginal peoples, its impact on family interactions, and how historical trauma may have affected other ethnic groups (Bombay, et al. , 2014).

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Impacts on Following Generations

The experiences of IRS Survivors have caused psychological distress among the following generations (offspring, grandchildren, etc) and has manifested in different ways. Evidence has suggested that they are at a greater risk of poor well-being, as well as problems within physical and mental health (Bombay, et al. , 2014).

Most importantly, this trauma has affected the way that generations are able to process and interact with stressors. History of repeated traumatic events may lead to increased reactivity to stressors, which could cause reactions to unrelated stressors or current injustices. For many following generations, this trauma is felt similarly to those who experienced it firsthand. It was found that these following generations think about these losses, which can result in distress, perceived discrimination, and alcohol abuse. Due to lack of positive parental role models, they lack the skills to properly cope with these stressors. This may lead to substance abuse, violence, and acting out. Data found that following generations of IRS Surivors had a greater chance of thinking about or committing suicide than family of those who had not experienced IRS (Bombay, et al. , 2014). Attitudes towards outgroups have also been influenced by IRS experiences, which affects intergroup relations. Family members report feeling higher levels of discrimination, lower trust, and forgiveness, which has resulted in a more pessimistic view of change or reconciliation (Bombay, et al. ,2014).Despite the goal among IRS to suppress their culture, research has found that generations following IRS Survivors have a higher chance of speaking their native language. Also, many generations view cultural traditions as very important and as a source of resilience (Bombay, et al. , 2014).Effects on Family InteractionsThe trauma Aboriginal children experienced has caused a ripple effect among the generations. Many IRS Survivors experienced chronic neglect as well as mental, physical, and sexual abuse.

The trauma that they faced may have resulted in PTSD and depression. IRS Survivors are more likely to have mental and physical health problems compared to those who did not attend (Bombay, et al. , 2014). Like the following generations, the IRS Survivor’s experiences affect their ability to perceive and respond to stressors. Intergenerational stress proliferation then affects their offspring by exposing them to the stressors caused by parental stress. A 2006 APS survey found that Aboriginal children of IRS Survivors were more likely to experience poverty, larger households, and food insecurity (Bombay, et al. , 2014). The children experienced the indirect stress of poverty and the direct stress of the IRS Survivor changing their parenting to cope with their increased stress. IRS Survivors lacked traditional parental role models, which prevented their ability to learn positive parenting skills and may have instilled negative parenting skills. Their offspring then learned these same methods and continued to practice it. The abuse that IRS Survivors faced may have also impacted their ability to parent. Evidence has shown that exposure to traumatic childhood experiences is linked with negative outcomes that continue later in life. Data found that IRS offspring experienced more abuse, neglect, dysfunction, and that IRS attendance negatively affected the parenting the offspring received (Bombay, et al. , 2014).

Historical Trauma in History

There have been quite a few events that has caused historical trauma. Currently, there have been reports of ICE forcing families out of their home and separating them into detention centers. This is similar to the events of IRS as this is based on a belief that immigrants are dangerous and inferior (Williams, 2018). Being targeted based on their citizenship and the color of their skin is bound to leave lasting effects of trauma. Also, being separated from their family during the traumatic experience of being detained is something that may result in PTSD and depression. Immigrants already have a harder time with gaining education and income. To cope and heal from this trauma may create a cycle like the ones that Aboriginal Canadians and Native Americans are currently facing (Williams, 2018). Unfortunately, these events have often targeted a racial or ethnic group. I think of the Japanese Internment camps, the Holocaust, and the Rwandan Genocide. They usually include family separation and exposing them to traumatic events based on a perceived threat. From these findings, it is known that trauma negatively impacts one’s ability to perceive and handle stressors. It can be concluded that this trauma will similarly pass down through the generations (Bombay, et al. , 2018).


Aboriginal people were subjected to abuse, neglect, and trauma spanning multiple years. These experiences, in result, created damage that has been passed down through generations, known as intergenerational trauma. The findings regarding their experiences has led to the concept known as historical trauma, which theorizes that repeated attacks against a group can result in consequences that accumulate over generations and negatively affect well-being. The children that were removed from their families and sent to schools lacked coping skills, parental role models, and emotional healing. These wounds never fully healed, and their trauma passed down through the following generations.

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