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PUBLISHER Pegasus Publications Inc.

DESIGN Cottonwood Publishing Services

EDITOR Dorothy Dobbie




CONTRIBUTORS Dr. Gillian Aldous, Jim Brousseau, Tom Dercola, Dorothy Dobbie, Hon. Myrna Driedger, John Einarson, Gordon Gage, Helen Harper, Ian Leatt, Gail McDonald, Fred Morris, Carol Nowell, Raymond Oakes, Jim Pappas, Marilyn Regiec, Trudy Schroeder, Krystal Stokes, Ross Thompson, Lianne Tregobov, Sherrie Versluis, Roger York, Nathan Zassman, Wenchao Zheng.

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Is intergenerational trauma a myth?

people have been negatively affected by residen- tial schools beyond the experience of those who were personally involved. The promotion, aired on an interprovincial


broadcasting station, asserted among other things that it was a “myth” that “the harm done to those attending has been passed down to today’s generation”. It went on to state that “Fact: The attendance of a grandparent has no effect on a child’s attitudes to school or academ- ic success”. The statement was carefully worded in that it points to academic achievement, but the in- ferences of the statement are another matter. Trauma can be intergenerational. Several years ago, I was coming back from Newfoundland where I was sent as the parlia- mentary secretary of Northern and Indian Af- fairs to witness discussions about a flurry of suicides that were taking place among Indigenous youth at the time. I shared my private jet back to Ottawa with Mary, one of the witnesses at the hearings. We had hours to talk and because the suicides were still being discussed, Mary shared what happened when she and her little brother were scooped and taken to a residen- tial school. “One day, a plane came down and we were put on it,” she said. She lived in the far north. There was barely time to say goodbye to her mom and dad. The kids were terrified and that night, in a strange bed in a place far away, she and her bother cried themselves to sleep. That was the first of many tearful nights. They couldn’t speak English and couldn’t understand what was being said. When they spoke their own language, they were given a sharp blow with a wooden ruler. Saddest of all was when they were allowed to go home for a visit some years later. Their families were strangers to them. They felt out of place and unloved.

By the time she told me this story, Mary was a very success- ful woman with a wonderful career. She told me her story in a matter-of-fact voice and without any comment or recrimina- tion. But I felt her residual sadness and understood how pro- foundly affecting this had been for her. It didn’t affect her ability to learn, but it did affect an intrin- sic part of her and who she understood she was. A number of years ago, a man named Wayne Weedon came

to see me about a book he had written. He was looking for distribution advice and as he outlined the plot of the story I got the impression, although it was a fictional account, that it was about someone he knew. Yes, he admitted, it was about his mother. As a child, she had been sent to a residential school run by Anglicans. The minister’s wife was barren, so they decided to adopt a child from the school. Not long after, they moved back to England and took the child with them, raising her in a life of privilege and luxury, sending her to the finest schools and even to university. The woman became a very popular young socialite, much sought after in Europe for her exotic good looks and ways.

But something was missing and she went from one excess to another. Finally, she came home to Manitoba to seek out her native community and to try to make something good happen

ecently there was a controversy involving a local broad- caster who was voicing an opinion promoted by a public policy group over whether or not Indigenous

Dorothy Dobbie

for the ones left behind. She didn’t fit in, though, and while she continued to fight for the cause of residential school attendees, she did it from outside the community. Her son, now in his 70s, was writing to release her emotions which had been passed on to him. A third story belongs to a man I met at the Main Street project. He was working and vol- unteering in the halfway house facility run by the group. He told me that he had been a child of the 60s scoop and had been adopted along with his twin brother by an American family. They had a normal, ‘happy’ childhood, he said. Both went to college and then on to a military career. For his brother, this was a good life and he is still there and thriving. For my friend at the shelter, there was always something miss- ing where he felt a gap in his heart that he tried to fill with alcohol and drugs. He came back to Manitoba looking for his roots but couldn’t relate to the community. His experiences were simply too alien to life on the reservation. He

fell into despair and was then trying to find his way back to a life and a meaning of his own. All these stories tell of separation and how each dealt with it. In every case, there was a consequence. Mary never mar- ried. She lived alone because she has trouble with trust. Wayne was still suffering for his mother and although he had a good education and a career as a writer, his life was filled with a kind of longing that he couldn’t figure out how to satisfy except by telling her story. My shelter friend is still struggling. Can those traumas be carried on to the next generation? Yes, I believe they can. We feel the pain of our parents and their parents. As a child hearing of my grandmother’s loss of her second child to SIDS, I felt her grief. Growing up, I heard about the trauma my father felt as an 18-year-old sent directly to the Front in the Second World War. I experienced his horror even though he seldom spoke of his experience. I felt the sad- ness of my great aunt Sadie, who lost two of her boys as pilots in the War.

I have two friends, one who lost his mother to murder and another whose father beat her mother and kept the kids all in terror until she was about 10. The things their parent suf- fered altered them both and that anguish is passed on to their children and in many cases to their children’s children. Ask members of the Jewish community if they don’t experience the sharp pain of the horror suffered by their grandparents. It is true that many people go on to have apparently success-

ful lives and careers after a family trauma while others don’t do so well. It is true that this kind of trauma doesn’t necessarily affect our ability to learn and even appear to thrive. But it is also true, that even among the most successful, the emotional or horrifying events of their parents and grandpar- ents, and even further back, do have an impact on the children and adults of today. We should not discount these people, but rather we should

try to understand how to help them find the path forward, always with a sheltering arm extended to steer the way. They need to know that we know of their grief, that we are trying to understand, and that, most of all, we care. That takes nothing away from us, but it gives life and, especially, hope, for those who suffer the past as though it were the present. Remember that grief is a physical thing.

For everything Manitoba!

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