That community which had previously been dubbed the suicide capital of Canada

That community which had previously been dubbed the

  • York University
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  • lalaal
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community from 1992 to 1995 (Robertson 2004). That community, which had previously been dubbed “the suicide capital of Canada,” did not have a completed suicide for a subsequent six-year period. John Berry (1999, 2002) has developed the concept of acculturative stress as an underlying factor contributing to social and psychological problems. This would tend to support the historic trauma model. On the other hand, he also notes, “There is widespread evidence that most people who have experi- enced acculturation actually do survive! They are not destroyed or substan- tially diminished by it; rather, they find opportunities and achieve their goals . . .” (2002: 33). Berry’s comments suggest that the notion that Aboriginal people are perpetual and universal victims of a colonial genocide may be sim- plistic. A qualitative study in Vancouver’s downtown eastside (van Uchelen et al. 1997) recorded that urban Aboriginal participants felt that recognizing their existing strengths did more to promote wellness than did needs-based
The Residential School Experience approaches. The study concluded that supporting existing strengths promotes wellness in holistic, culturally appropriate, and empowering ways. Case Vignettes of Three Residential School Survivors Case studies can be a valuable form of research especially when triangu- lated with other methods (Creswell 1998). These case studies were selected to supplement and enrich the scant direct research that has been complet- ed with respect to residential school survivors. The first of these vignettes is about an elder with whom I have had a long association. The other two vignettes are drawn from my client file; confidentiality has been protected through the use of pseudonyms. Elder Daniel Nippi While attending the residential school in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Daniel was abused sexually by two nuns, a priest, and an older youth. He also suffered physical beatings. On leaving school he displayed many of the symp- toms of RSS outlined by Brasfield (2001). He spent the majority of his time from age 16 to 40 in prison for alcohol-related offences, assault, and sexual assault. The only emotion he remembers feeling during this period was anger. He had recurrent dreams and flashbacks about his residential experiences. Daniel reports that he received cognitive behavioural therapy but that this was only partially effective. He eventually turned to Native (Saulteaux) spirituality, and he credits this with saving his life. “George” George’s history of physical and sexual abuse while in residential school, and his subsequent story of alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and jail time parallels that of Daniel. He reports that he did not experience recur- rent dreams or flashbacks until he initiated legal action against the Roman Catholic Church and the federal government. His lawyer encouraged him to remember details of the abuse. As he attempted to remember those details his anxiety levels and his aversion to religious symbols increased.

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