multicolored people

multicolored people

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Aboriginal Mental Health and Residential Schools

Residential schools are part of Canadian history and are now in our past. However, survivors and their family members are still being haunted by memories to this day. Aboriginal people of Canada face many issues connected to their past in regards to their mental health. Some examples of mental health issues that can affect Aboriginal people today are ones such as post traumatic stress disorder and depression. These mental health issues can also cause people to commit suicide or other harmful acts to themselves.
Society may not understand and can be confused as to why the affects to residential schools would effect Aboriginal youth today. According to Barlow(2009), “Studies suggest that the effects have transcended generations and have produced negative consequences by hindering the development of Aboriginal people in Canada and, in some instances, having a regressive effect on the conditions of various aspects of health.”(p.8)
Aboriginal mental health is one aspect that has been affected. Many school survivors must face symptoms of post traumatic stress and depression but so do their families. This is because when the survivor entered the school they lost their culture and in some cases their families. This loss has then been passed on to their families and is continued through future generations. 
This loss of culture is extremely upsetting not only for the people directly effected but also for Canada as a nation. The government chose to assimilate Aboriginal people then they came to their senses and put an end to it. However, they did not take in to consideration the trauma inflicted on the survivors.
Services need to be put into place for residential school survivors and their families so that they can deal with their trauma and move past it. They need support from not only their community but all of Canadian society. Thirty percent of First Nations people have felt sad, blue or depressed. (Health Canada, 2007) Families need to be worked with so that the depression does not turn in to harming themselves. Aboriginal people are overrepresented in suicidal rates.  The suicide rate for First Nation males is 126 per 100,000 compared to 24 per 100,000 for non-Aboriginal males. (Health Canada, 2007) This statistic is extremely high as well as extremely preventable.
Aboriginal mental health can be attributed to many factors one being residential schools. However, just as Canada introduced the schools and demolished them, Canada can introduce a system to help Aboriginal people overcome obstacles they face in regards to residential schools. The key to providing this system is public education. Survivors need strong vocal advocates who are committed to re-empowering Aboriginal people. (Reclaiming connections: understanding, 2005)

-Alexis B.

Barlow, K. (2009). Residential schools, prisons, and hiv/aids among aboriginal peoples of canada. Canada: Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

Reclaiming connections: understanding residential school trauma among aboriginal people. (2005). Canada: Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

Health Canada. (2007, July 19). Mental health and wellness. Retrieved from


  1. Really good post! I agree completely with you and how the government should be helping the aboriginals. The government needs to come up with a new system to help the aboriginals move on from the pain they had endured. In addition to what you have said it will also be very difficult because the government is trying to pay off the aboriginals for the horrors they had gone through. I believe that instead of paying each person off the money should go towards helping the aboriginals through some sort of system. Possibly arranging meetings with counsillors to help them come to terms with their past.

    -Brettany G.

  2. Good post Alexis! I don't think any one kind of compensation is going to heal the wounds that the Aboriginal people of Canada have been left with. Apologies, and money might benefit these people; though it won't undo what has already been done. I agree with you Brettany, this money should go towards the wounds themselves, and should be used to fix or heal the damage that continues to exsist
    -Eliza R.

  3. I think you raise a very good point! I believe many people tend to dismiss the lasting effects of residential schools far too quickly. The survivors of those school endured years of emotional and often physical abuse. As children they did not have the skills to properly deal with this trauma, and so it is not surprising that years later there is evidence of mental health concerns.
    However I think it's also important to recognize that there were also many people who attended these schools who were able to move past that experience and lead full lives, which is a testament to their resiliency.

    -Erin Roche

  4. Good post! I really liked how you put in the statistics for suicide rates and I was shocked on how much higher suicide rates are among Aboriginal people. It obviously shows that the government needs to implement a strategy to help the Aboriginals with coping with their colonization. Like you said suicide is preventable! Aboriginals should have the possibility of receiving the necessary help they need to cope with what has happened to their culture and family.

    Melanie. F

  5. Culture is very important for mental health. The sense of belonging and having support is of utmost importance. The Aboriginal Head Start is an intervention program for preschool children and their families which foster self-growth, education, and parenting skills. The program focuses on cultural supports which is essential to regaining the culture of the First Nations. There are also wellness centres and healing programs free of charge through such agencies as the Aboriginal Health & Wellness Centre of Winnipeg to support and heal those who have suffered. With communication and support the First Nations culture will strengthen and people will have the chance to heal.

    Jessica N

    Aboriginal Health & Wellness Centre of Winnipeg

    Aboriginal Head Start

  6. Hello Alexis, many Canadians either don’t understand or know about residential schools and there generational effect which needs to change. To start this change Canadians need to get educated on the history and effects of the past on current aboriginal people. I agree that these individuals that continue to suffer from the effects of residential schools need to have more services provided for them and advocates to speak out in order to help them cope with the oppression created from their pasts and try to create a new future away from oppression. I found your blog very informative.

    Nicole G

  7. Great post! I really like that you mentioned how it is possible for aboriginal people who are affected by residential schools to develop Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, which is often over looked. Most people think of PTSD as strictly a mental health issue among war soldiers and veterans, but it is very real and prevalent in much more situations like survivors of the residential schools and their families like you mentioned. I like how you made that knowledge available because even myself knowing that, it sometimes slips my mind, so it's good to be reminded of this. Thank you.

    -Avery F

  8. The last residential school only closed down in the 90's. I have a co-worker who is a Cree woman who grew up in a residential school. She told me about how when she was a child her school used an expired batch of polio vaccines that had been sent to the school. This caused many children to have bad reactions, sores, and infections where the vaccine was administered. To this day she still has a giant scar on her arm where alot of tissue is missing. I strongly feel that these events are too recent to say that they are in the past. Winnipeg has one of the highest First Nations populations of young people in a Canadian city. This new generation of young people in many ways represents just the beginning of the fallout from a cultural genocide and well just plain genocide as many First Nations children died while in those schools.

    Rachel Ryan-Dorn

  9. Great detailed information, I ll be visiting you more frequently, here is very interesting information.
    Mental Health