Effects on Students, Communities and Subsequent Generations
Some effects on students of residential schools include an enormous overwhelming and lasting feeling of loss – loss of identity, family, language, culture and spirituality. Many also experience a deep and enduring sense of shame regarding their culture. Many survivors never got over the traumatic aftermath of residential schools. Ojibway elder Wilmer F. Nadjiwon says of his 1930-1935 experience at the Spanish Residential School,
“The effects of going to Spanish were worse than the post traumatic effects of a soldier on the battlefield; I know… I was there, and soldiered as an infantryman for most of the Italian Campaign in World War II. When I returned to Canada, I brought some of the battlefield demons with me and they were hard to chase from my mind, but I was eventually able to forget them. Not so when it came to the residential school. The life I had for most of six years in the Spanish Residential School cannot be erased. The injustice of the way I was used (sexually) in those years has left me an emotional cripple.”
The effects of the traumas experienced by residential school survivors affected not only the individuals who attended but generations of entire communities and nations as well.
Residential schools, were an assault on Indigenous family units and disrupted the bonds between families and communities. Removal of children from their families and communities prevented the necessary communication of traditional education and distorted their ability to form interpersonal relationships. The immense traumas they endured created intergenerational cycles of abuse and social and familial dysfunction which are still present in many First Nations communities.
To cope with traumas, alcohol and substance abuse became common among survivors and has also had lasting intergenerational effects including widespread lateral violence. Suicide, depression and poverty in First Nations communities are disproportionately high.
Lack of good parenting skills (caused by being denied an invaluably instructive family life) has contributed to disproportionately high numbers of children being taken by child welfare services. Currently, there are more Indigenous children in care than at the peak of the residential school era. The issue of Indigenous children being taken into care at high rates is certainly not entirely due to bad parenting. Racism, colonialism and misunderstandings of First Nations culture have all contributed as well.
Many children left school not able to gain employment as adults, thus leading to the impoverishment of Aboriginal communities and has contributed to poverty, crime and incarcerations and has persisted for generations.
The residential school system was not solely responsible for the current state of suffering in Aboriginal communities and individuals, but it did play a major role. Of the many colonizing elements Canada has imposed, the residential school system was the most damaging to Indigenous peoples. The system has been deemed cultural genocide by some scholars because groups were targeted, not just individuals.