Chapter Three - Outcomes
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Even though the total number of residential school students represents less than 10 percent of the Canadian Aboriginal population, the students were not alone in the suffering caused by their educational experience. The effects of the residential school experience have been long-term and far-reaching, involving former students, their families, and their communities. All have felt the repercussions of these events.
While each child's experience of the residential school system was unique, researchers have identified a number of shared behaviours and social conditions among school Survivors. Because their formative years of childhood often involved repeated traumatic events many adult Survivors have been diagnosed with Post traumatic stress disorder. This condition includes symptoms like "nightmares, sleep problems, blackouts, apathy and depression." Adult Survivors have also exhibited similar self-esteem issues and ineffective coping mechanisms, like alcohol and drug abuse, spousal and family abuse, and sexual abuse and incest. The mortality rate of residential school Survivors has also been very high, with suicide and alcohol-related deaths significantly higher than national averages.
The residential school system affected families for generations. Parents were forced to relinquish their sons and daughters to the authorities, or face criminal charges and fines. They watched as their children were forcibly removed from their homes. And for those parents who were fortunate enough to be reunited with their children, they then watched as their children returned to them with shame or hatred for their Aboriginal heritage.
While families bore the brunt of their children's alienation and anger, the children themselves struggled to function as family members. In the residential school system, students did not learn how to be part of a family. They did not learn how to parent or how to love appropriately, skills that children normally learn from their parents. Depriving Aboriginal children of these life lessons produced generations of people who did not know how to be fathers or mothers, or how to handle conflict within the family in a constructive and loving way.
The lack of parenting skills is perhaps one of the most profound outcomes of the residential school system. Survivors of the schools knew only the rigid, authoritarian, and emotionally distant discipline of the teachers and caretakers in the schools. This became the way many of them then controlled their own families. As each person learns to parent from their parents, so the effects of poor parenting skills became a legacy of successive generations. Several writers have noted, "how dysfunctional patterns of behaviour may be seen in the adult children of former students, leading them to conclude that: 'native child-rearing patterns have been indelibly marked by residential schools in ways that will last for generations.'"
Assimilation and the efforts to erase Aboriginal culture from the Canadian landscape have also had an irrevocable impact on most Aboriginal communities. Many communities were devastated by language and culture loss through the removal of their young people. These children had not yet learned all there was to know, and by the time they returned to their homes, they did not want to know about their language, culture, and traditions. This resulted in the permanent loss of several dialects and languages, and some of the meanings of traditional ceremonies and cultural markers. Many communities have also been devastated by the legacy of physical and sexual abuse, which has created barriers to communal healing.
On a positive note, many residential school Survivors have embraced their Aboriginal heritage as a means of recovering from the horrific experiences of their childhoods. Together, many communities have found this cultural resurgence to be a welcome path to reclaiming the entire community. The shared experiences of residential school Survivors have also provided a link between communities with a "network of loyalties and political activists throughout Indian country. The mutually shared stories became the basis of a new discourse and a common issue on the contemporary political agenda."