Intergenerational Trauma of Indigenous Communities
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Intergenerational Trauma of Indigenous Communities

Posted on: Sunday, September 19th, 2021

Many Indigenous peoples in Canada suffered traumas during their time in residential schools, which have been accumulated and passed down to later generations. This is called intergenerational trauma (also known as generational or transgenerational trauma). Amy Bombay, a Dalhousie University professor, describes intergenerational trauma as “the stressful and traumatic experiences faced by one generation [that] impact the health, well-being, and experiences of the next generation.” This definition helps us understand why the recent reports of unmarked graves at previous residential schools caused pain to survivors and their families. Physical and sexual abuse, as well as malnutrition were all common in residential schools. According to researchers, residential schools, as well as other racist and colonial practises like the Indian Act, have caused intergenerational trauma.


Trauma among parents has been related to increased levels of PTSD, anxiety, and mood disorders in their children. There is also emerging evidence suggesting that a person’s environment can lead to changes in the way their genes function, implying that trauma can modify a person’s DNA, leading their kids to inheriting its effects.


Trauma can be passed down in various ways, including parents abusing or neglecting their children in the same manner they were abused or neglected as children. Suicide, homelessness, and addiction are also more common in traumatised people, and these consequences have been connected to residential schools and the foster care system. Anxiety, discomfort, low self-esteem, and depression in younger generations are all symptoms of intergenerational trauma.


Many Indigenous peoples have coped with (and continue to cope with) their trauma through the use of drugs, alcohol, and other harmful behaviours which have had critical consequences including poor health, incarceration, and death.

Today, Indigenous communities have a long road ahead of them in their fight against systemic trauma. The Canadian government’s apology to survivors of residential schools in 2008 was a start, but the journey to reconciliation and healing from the trauma remains work in progress.


The Indian Residential School Survivors Society Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24/7 for anyone experiencing distress as a result of residential schools.

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