How do we take in the enormity of pain in ourselves and each other? It’s like the stinky sludge in the bottom of a swamp, where we are almost used to the pervading aroma, then the wind shifts and we gasp for fresh air.

In 2019, I wrote a post about Orange Shirt Day commemorating children who were forced into Canada’s Indian Residential Schools. A 50-metre-long red cloth held 2,800 entries, each the name of a child who died in these schools. Residential schools were the stated policy of the Canadian government to “take the Indian out of the child”. This is part of settler colonization. The schools were funded by the Canadian government and run primarily by churches. Children were abducted from their parents and communities by priests and others acting on behalf of our government. The first school opened in the 1870’s. The last one closed in 1996. Twenty four years ago. Take that in. Twenty four years ago.

Abuse of alcohol and other drugs, sexual abuse and social breakdown were not the reasons why residential schools began. They are a direct result of the trauma individuals experienced in Indian residential schools and in the parents whose children were taken from them. The intergenerational effects of this trauma are very much alive in Indigenous communities today. The effects of genocidal policies and racism are reflected in the lack of clean drinking water, addiction, poverty and the high suicide rates of Indigenous children and adults today.  Historical trauma continues to play out very personally in families and communities today. These are not stories or statistics. We are talking about real people.

I read a post this week about a protest against an oil pipeline going through Indigenous land against their wishes. They spoke of the devastating environmental impact and climate change. They also named that with the oil “man camps” on their land, more Indigenous women will be missing and murdered. A few more years of high paying jobs is not worth the devastation.

I am white. My ancestors were part of colonization. I benefit from white supremacy. What can I do now? It is advanced practice to learn the facts, open my heart, let in our shared humanity, and bear witness to the past and present grief and suffering of Indigenous children, their families and communities.

The stench of the swamp blew into our faces in May when we watched George Floyd die on camera with a police officer’s knee on his neck. It blew into my family this week through a tragic death. We are not separate. There is a high cost when we continue to deny the swamp we have built our lives on.

How do we take in the enormity of pain in ourselves and each other? We can soften our heart and connect with ourselves and others. Sharpen our minds and learn. Practice connection and compassion. Strengthen our back and let in our complicated, tough reality. We did not create culture and systemic racism. Going into a shame spiral keeps us stuck and without agency. We are not actually helpless.

We can do our personal work to unlearn our conditioning and fully connect with our humanity. We can get involved in our communities and online worldwide. We can donate our hearts and time and some can donate money.

Now more than ever before, there are billions of people waking up and standing together to change our world. We all have a place in this world.

Learn more: 
National Center for Truth and Reconciliation
The Reason You Walk, by Wab Kinew
Richard Wagamese movie Indian Horse
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Indigenous Intergenerational Trauma
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