National Indigenous History Month: Focus on Indigenous Older Canadians
In the past few years, the terrible evidence of thousands of children buried in unmarked graves at residential schools has finally found its place in public awareness. This reality has long been known by First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities.
Residential schools were created by Christian churches and the Canadian government as an attempt to both educate and convert Indigenous youth and to assimilate them into Canadian society. The schools disrupted lives, communities, and cultures.
Approximately 150,000 children went through the residential school system. Children were forcibly separated from their families for extended periods of time. They were not allowed to acknowledge their heritage, culture or to speak their language. They were subject to physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse at the hands of residential school staff.
While numbers of children who died at the schools are still being investigated, the conservative estimate is that over 6,000 children died.
Despite that the last school closed as recently as 1996, many Canadians view the residential school system as a part of the distant past, unrelated to today’s events. The impacts, however, are very real, devastating and ongoing.
Many of the leaders, teachers, parents, and grandparents of today’s Indigenous communities are residential school survivors. Many have been impacted by personal trauma, and the loss of language, culture, traditional teachings, practical skills, experience of family life, and mental/spiritual wellbeing.
“So why is it important to understand the history of genocide in Canada? Because it’s not history. Today’s racist government laws, policies and actions have proven to be just as deadly for Indigenous peoples as the genocidal acts of the past.”
–Pamela Palmater, Mi’kmaq lawyer, professor, activist, and politician
(National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (Canada) et al. 2019, 53).
The Hope for Wellness Help Line offers immediate help to all Indigenous peoples across Canada 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call 1-855-242-3310 or chat online at hopeforwellness.ca
Factors such as poverty, employment, working environments, education, geographic location and access to health services, housing, social status, social support networks, food security, language, gender and culture have a very real impact on a person’s wellbeing and health.
Indigenous seniors are especially vulnerable due to a combination of historical and ongoing factors.
- Historical trauma: The traumatic experiences of cultural disruption, loss of land, and racist policies have a current impact on Indigenous seniors, their families and communities.
- Healthcare access: Indigenous seniors, particularly those in remote or rural areas often face challenges in accessing healthcare services. This can be due to geographical barriers, lack of transportation or limited healthcare infrastructure.
- Socioeconomic inequalities: Many Indigenous seniors experience higher poverty rates, inadequate housing, and limited economic opportunities.
- Cultural and language barriers: Indigenous seniors may face difficulties in gaining access to culturally appropriate healthcare services due to language barriers or a lack of culturally sensitive providers. This can result in a lack of understanding and trust, impacting the quality of care received.
- Discrimination and racism: Systemic discrimination and racism exists in Canada. In the healthcare system, this can lead to significantly poorer health outcomes.
How Can I be an Ally?
What does it mean to be an ‘ally’? In simplest terms, it means you recognize the privilege that settler culture in Canada has and takes for granted. It also implies that commit to learning, being open to where you can change your understanding and actions, and challenge and work towards breaking down the barriers that continue to violate Indigenous communities.
The first step is learning.
Here are some excellent resources.
University of Alberta free online course, Indigenous Canada
Indigenous Canada is a 12-lesson Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) from the Faculty of Native Studies that explores the different histories and contemporary perspectives of Indigenous peoples living in Canada. From an Indigenous perspective, this course explores complex experiences Indigenous peoples face today from a historical and critical perspective highlighting national and local Indigenous-settler relations. Topics for the 12 lessons include the fur trade and other exchange relationships, land claims and environmental impacts, legal systems and rights, political conflicts and alliances, Indigenous political activism, and contemporary Indigenous life, art and its expressions.
Employment and Social Development Canada
The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history, began to be implemented in 2007. One of the elements of the agreement was the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada to facilitate reconciliation among former students, their families, their communities and all Canadians.
94 Calls to Action
Government of Canada’s progress in responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 94 Calls to Action.
A national Indigenous charitable organization with the mandate to educate and create awareness and understanding about the Residential School System, including the intergenerational impacts such as the removal of generations of Indigenous children from their families, including the Sixties Scoop, the post-traumatic stress disorders that many First Nations, Inuit, and Metis continue to experience, all while trying to address racism, foster empathy and understanding and inspire action to improve the situation of Indigenous Peoples today. The LHF supports the ongoing healing process of Residential School Survivors, and their families and seeks their input on projects that honour them.