On the eve of the first day of National Indigenous History Month, 2021, Indigenous Peoples and communities across Canada are reeling from the grief associated with the confirmation of an unmarked mass burial site of 215 children who attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School, and whose deaths were never reported or recorded – they just ‘disappeared’. This is not the only mass burial site of Indigenous children who were abducted from their homes and forced to attend Indian Residential School. We have known since the Truth and Reconciliation process that these sites exist, and that there are more to uncover.
But this recent uncovering has triggered memories of the experiences of Indian Residential School survivors and offspring of survivors of the collective trauma, including the physical, sexual, emotional, and cultural violence perpetrated against them. It is a reminder of so many lost lives, of stolen children. It has underscored the continued trauma, as Indigenous children are disproportionately removed from their families and placed into the Child Welfare system, of the Indigenous youth who are disproportionately incarcerated, and of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. On this day, many Indigenous Peoples are in a state of unadulterated grief. And on this day, many have voiced their bitterness, their anger, and their mistrust toward those of us whose privileged status is grounded in their losses and toward a system that continues to discount the value of the lives Indigenous Peoples.
Several years ago, just prior to the release of the TRC report and the 94 calls to action, I wrote a blog inspired by #MyReconciliationIncludes. Despite knowing of the lost opportunities that had followed many previous reports documenting Canada’s treatment of Indigenous Peoples and recommendations to address the wrongs done, I was hopeful that perhaps we would move into a new era that would bring us closer to achieving justice and social equity. That all Canadians would view the achievement of such justice as a moral responsibility, and as part of the healing and reconciliation process for all of us.
I’ve done enough research addressing issues of racism, cognitive biases, threat mechanisms, and intergroup relations to know this was a naïve hope. But really, what was the alternative.
The actions of each of us as individuals can make a difference. Actions do speak louder than words, and actions are needed. I know that some people find it confusing, and don’t know where to begin. They are afraid of using the wrong words. Afraid that acting will be interpreted as continuing to abuse their privilege. Afraid of crossing the lines between education, advocacy and appropriation. And of course, there are better and worse ways of acting as an ally, and it is incumbent on every one of us to learn, listen, and learn again. Meaningful change that results in justice and equity means respecting the vision, autonomy, strengths, and self-determination of Indigenous Peoples in all of their diversity and commonalities, all of their contradictions and agreements, and all of their struggles and celebrations.
Researchers associated with the CHAIM Centre have been collaborating on research projects with Indigenous Peoples since before the Centre’s inception. We have provided links to some of this research, and ongoing research programs. Research with and for Indigenous Peoples goes some ways to improving understanding and identifying pathways forward.
But my real hopes rest with young people. New generations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth who, with some support and guidance, will learn to work together, to walk in two worlds, and who will respect and embrace the values of each in equal measure. I see so many post-secondary students who are looking for these opportunities to learn, to listen, and are prepared to learn over again and again.
Each of us will find our own way of bringing about change, and this is what I can do. As a non-Indigenous ally, I believe that my strongest actions are to help clear the path for these young people, to help them to foster the relationships, and provide them with the tools, values, and opportunities to work together to achieve their collective vision of the world they want to live in together. Young people are inheriting so many challenges created by my generation and those that preceded me. They have so much to gain from working together and learning from each other to create a just world that respects all people and indeed the entire living planet.
Kim Matheson, Director
Research Programs with Indigenous Partners:
Indigenous Youth Futures Partnership - This is an ongoing interdisciplinary multi-institutional community-led participatory action research partnership with First Nations communities in Northwestern Ontario to support their vision and strategies to enable their youth to flourish.
Indigenous-Led Research Training Program - Researchers from multiple disciplines at Carleton University are working together with Indigenous communities to co-develop a community-led research training program that is interdisciplinary, interinstitutional, reflects a Two-Eyed Seeing approach, and encourages a mutually respectful alliance between Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners. The program presents an opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous post-secondary students to ‘walk together’ with Indigenous youth toward reconciliation, justice, and wellness. Students bring their disciplinary tools to their projects, but at the same time learn, unlearn, and learn again through Indigenous ways of knowing. They will do this through multimedia storytelling. Stories encompass many experiences and convey a fuller picture of what is needed for sustainable initiatives, from mental health to business ventures to environmental protection. Stories told using a variety of media formats can drive creative thinking towards new ideas. The partnerships with Indigenous youth will address issues such as food sovereignty, social entrepreneurship, and youth wellness and resilience, with the hope that sustainable solutions can evolve. Here are some example projects from 2020/21:
Bombay, A., McQuaid R.J., Young, J., Sinha, V., Currie, V., Anisman, H., & Matheson, K. (2020). Familial attendance at Indian Residential School and subsequent involvement in the child welfare system among Indigenous adults born during the Sixties Scoop era. First Peoples Child and Family Review, 15(1), 62-79.
Matheson, K., Bombay, A., Dixon, K., Anisman, H. (2020). Intergenerational communication regarding Indian Residential Schools: Implications for cultural identity, perceived discrimination, and depressive symptoms. Transcultural Psychiatry, 57(2), 304-320.
McQuaid, R.J., Bombay, A., & Matheson, K. (2019). Contextualizing Indigenous mental health and wellness by understanding historical trauma and resilience. Psynopsis, 41(3), 12-14.
Bombay, A., McQuaid, R., Schwartz, F., Thomas, A., Anisman, H., & Matheson, K. (2019). Suicidal thoughts and attempts in First Nations communities: Links to parental Indian residential school attendance across development. Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease,10(1), 123-131. DOI:10.1017/S2040174418000405
Bombay, A., Matheson, K., & Anisman, H. (2014). The intergenerational effects of Indian Residential Schools: Implications for the concept of historical trauma. Transcultural Psychiatry, 51, 320-338.
Bombay, A., Matheson, K., & Anisman, H. (2014). Origins of lateral violence in Aboriginal communities: A preliminary study of student-to-student abuse in residential schools. Aboriginal Healing Foundation, Ottawa, ON.
Bombay, A., Matheson, K., & Anisman, H. (2011). The impact of stressors on second generation Indian Residential School Survivors. Transcultural Psychiatry, 48, 367-391.