As a community health nurse, Shelly sees firsthand the effects of residential school trauma. She works with community leaders, teachers and others to recognize and respond to the signs of suicidal thoughts and sexual abuse.
“When you live on a First Nations reserve like this, and are a health care provider, work is very, very close. I have experienced a lot. You get the phone calls that say, ‘Something has happened. You have to come quick.’ You don’t know what you are going to walk into. Recently, I was the first one on the scene of a suicide. Vicarious trauma is especially tough.”
“Our suicide care plan is broad. We have an acute care response team in the region that includes people in health care, in the women’s shelters, in policing and several other areas. Many communities in the area have agreements with this team and can call upon whoever might be needed in a crisis. The people on the team are from surrounding communities, and that’s important because we are a very close-knit community. When it’s our cousins, sisters or brothers in crisis, we’re not the best people to provide care. So, if there is a suicide, I can call on a counsellor in a neighbouring town to do a debriefing.”
“Eighteen people in our community recently received suicide intervention training. We didn’t just train healthcare providers. We trained people in the school and in the community who could be the eyes and ears out there.”
“When there are signs and symptoms suggesting someone is at risk of suicide, we recognize them and can build a safety net to catch those individuals.”
It is important to normalize the feelings of suicide, because there’s so much stigma.
“It’s much better for us to talk about it because if we can recognize it, and give a name to it, then we can do something about it.”
“For child abuse prevention week, we brought in a program called Little Warriors. The essence of it is to recognize child sexual abuse. It was eye opening to everyone who attended because we couldn’t fathom the amount that it was happening. It’s really tough to live with, right? To know that this is occurring all around us. Some say, ‘You are going to open a can of worms’ if you ask questions about what is going on with a child. I am like, ‘Okay, you are sacrificing a child for not opening a can of worms. Do you realize what you are saying?’”
“I think it’s maybe normalized because some people think, ‘I experienced abuse and I am fine.’ I feel that abuse really wounds the soul. It could be a short time of abuse and the child doesn’t seem traumatized, but it still has its effects. The kids don’t tie their feelings of low self esteem or inadequacy to that one act. It’s not until they are adults that they look into their past and figure that out for themselves.”
There are always going to be pathological abusers, but I think the amount of domestic violence would be much less if we didn’t have the beginnings deep within our history.
“It comes from a dark place, a place of brokenness. You’ve got a whole generation of children who were stolen from their parents. Their parent figures were the nuns and priests who abused and beat them. Some of those who were abused became abusers. Of course not all of the nuns and priests were offenders, but you created a group of adults who didn’t have parents. How do we learn our parenting skills? By watching and learning from the parent figures in our lives.”
“When you’ve got parents who don’t know how to parent, who maybe don’t have the greatest self esteem, who feel like their children should love them all the time and that’s where they get their self worth….. these parents are worried that if they tell their children ‘no,’ the children will hate them. Huge amounts of pressure are placed on a child in that relationship. I have seen children grow up to be teenagers, and they’ve essentially had to become the adults of the relationship. The best you can hope for is to get to the point where you can give the kids the skills to survive.”
“I have seen some really great parents come from those kids. Kids who had some interventions and healing, and were able to understand that, ‘Okay, now I am the parent. I am the adult. This is my job. I didn’t get this as a kid, but this is what I can do.’”
Our native values form the lens through which we view the world.
“The Canadian lens is problem oriented, but the traditional Anishinaabe lens is strength based. It looks at the strengths that we have and how to foster resilience.”
“We are all going to be touched by climate change, but I think this place is going to relatively untouched. It is going to be a gem. I think about my son, when he’s older, what can we give him to help him survive? He is going to know where food comes from, what the animals do, what medicines come from the land. Those are values, right?”
“I grew up looking at the people in my family through the Canadian lens, and what a harsh lens that is! The Canadian lens doesn’t even see us as human beings. When you hear about the suicides in all of those northern reserves, there’s a reason for that. The chronic underfunding and the political games. I just finished talking to first-year medical students who are doing their placements in our community through the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, which does a fantastic job of educating their students about First Nations of Canada. Before this exposure, very few had an education on what we’ve been through, what residential schools were really like and what’s led us to be where we are. I think a lot of responsibility and blame is placed on us in terms of where we are, but it is all through that Canadian lens, and it’s frustrating.”
“Racism is not my problem. I live with the consequences of racism, but it’s not my problem.”
Everyone who looks through that Canadian lens needs to go to the mirror and ask themselves, ‘What am I doing about the racism problem?’