This year, for Every Child Matters Day / Orange Shirt Day I wanted to take the time to reflect on how my family has been affected by residential schools, particularly, how it directly impacted my mother's upbringing, as well as the resilience of my family and ancestors. My story is similar to the stories of many other Indigenous families, who are navigating the intergenerational effects and traumas because of residential schools.
For as long as I can remember, I knew my Momma had a complicated, traumatic, and extremely difficult past. My Dada George (grandfather), my Momma’s dad, attended and escaped residential school when he was a young boy. To cope with his long, painful journey of facing genocide and trying to survive in a colonial society, he used many different substances and had tendencies to be violent in the homes where my Momma grew up. I’ve always connected his behaviours to the violence he endured at residential school, based on the stories of other survivors. However, he didn’t discuss this topic very much at all, and never with details, so we will never fully know his side of the story.
The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was set up to raise awareness of the impact of the residential school system in Canada, states, “Many students who spoke to the Commission said they developed addictions as a means of coping” with the traumatic events they experienced.
This meant that he, unfortunately, did not have the tools and skillset to be emotionally available to my Momma. His way of teaching her how to cope was by introducing his coping tool- using substances. This brought my Momma closer to Dada, which is what she always craved, as any child does. But this also led her down a lifelong journey of hardships, starting as a young girl to the present day.
I can say as a second-generation survivor that myself and my family are affected by what my Dada endeavoured each and every day. Although I work hard to break generational cycles and support others to do the same, I know that these effects can linger with my children, grandchildren, and so on for a total of 7 generations. But so can my resilience, as has my Momma and Dada's.
There is so much good and resilience in both my Dada and Momma despite the life challenges forced upon them, and I wouldn’t be the strong and proud person I am today if it weren’t for these extremely important people in my life. Although my Dada passed when I was only two years old I am reminded frequently how much he loved and adored me as his Kawanáte which is my name in the Kanien’kehá language that he gave me. My Dada was a proud Mohawk Steel and Ironworker and worked on many well-known structures in upper New York State. My Momma is an extremely strong and talented Mohawk woman. She does beautiful traditional crafts and guided me down the path I’m on today of growing, healing, and sharing my family’s journey. Today, I am a proud Kanien’kehá youth who is an active member in my community, studying in Indigenous advocacy, and contr
For National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Day, we need to reflect on the many families that carry similar stories as mine and continue to face hardships in our colonial society and its institutions. It's a reminder that we need to disrupt the systems that perpetuate the harm of residential schools and ensure today's youth and the next 7 generations are supported to thrive.
We encourage people to support these Indigenous Led and serving organizations whom we collaborate with and who are doing critical work to ensure intergenerational cycles of families can thrive:
About The author: Kloey (she/her) Youth co-lead and board member at FASC. A Kanien’kehá youth raised off-reserve. Currently residing on the traditional territory of the Anishinabek, which includes the Ojibwa of Fort William First Nation, signatory to the Robinson-Superior Treaty of 1850
If your Family and Ancestors have been affected by residential schools, and you need support, please see the below resources, website, and crisis lines for support:
As a settler, how are you learning the truth, honouring the stories, and celebrating the accomplishments of Indigenous People today?
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Getting to the Roots is a blog by FASC where we share the science and the stories of the intergenerational effects of substance use stigma and child welfare policies. By making the literature relevant to the experiences of the families we serve, we aim to increase awareness of the real-life harm families face in seeking support while inspiring a society that contributes to generational health, healing and well-being.