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No other population group in Canada’s history has endured such a deliberate, comprehensive and prolonged assault on the family and on their human rights. Yet many Canadians including those in the human service sector remain unaware of the full scope of these injustices or their impacts. In fact, the question we hear most often is ‘Why can’t you just get over it and move on?”

Marlene Brant Castellano’s description of colonization helps answer this question. She says, “Confidence in the ethical order of the universe is instilled by experience in the family and reinforced by the larger community, by ceremonies that generate shared awareness, and by language, the signs and symbols by which we define and share our perceptions of reality. This concept of an ethical universe stabilized by family, community, ceremony, and language is not unique to Aboriginal society. What is distinctive about our experience as Aboriginal peoples is the history of having each of those stabilizers systematically undermined by the colonial experience, leaving individuals isolated and vulnerable in a universe that appears chaotic and is definitely threatening (2009:232-233).”

Disproportionately higher rates of addiction and mental health problems are repeatedly linked with intergenerational trauma unique to the experience of Indigenous people in Canada. The response from our social institutions is at best, a persistent systemic indifference to the pain and is at worst, judgmental and punitive, blaming those with addictions for ‘poor lifestyle choices’, ‘attitude problems’, ‘character deficiencies’ and being “uncooperative”, ‘hard to serve’ or ‘resistant to treatment’.

Not all Survivors of residential schooling or their descendants struggle with mental health problems or addictions. Many illustrate, through their writing, art, and work in political and social arenas, the enduring wisdom, vitality, adaptability and life-sustaining value of their cultural teachings.

Services run by and for Inuit, Métis and First Nation communities are grounded in the knowledge that history, culture and worldview matter profoundly; that the health of individuals, families, communities and nations are inextricably connected; and that well-being throughout the lifespan from birth to old age has four inter-related, inter-dependent aspects: the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual.

Presentation to the Select Committee on Mental Health and Addictions Deborah Chansonneuve, September 9th, 2009

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