Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Understanding Aboriginal Intergeneration Trauma from a Social Work Perspective

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Understanding Aboriginal Intergeneration Trauma from a Social Work Perspective

Article excerpt

Abstract / Résumé

Aboriginal people are overrepresented among the homeless in urban centres across Canada. Though very little information exists to explain this phenomenon, increasing evidence from the growing number of mental health studies conducted in Aboriginal communities suggests that intergenerational trauma is a critical contributor to an array of personal, family, and community behaviors. This study explored the men's personal family histories, seeking links between personal homelessness and intergenerational trauma. An interpretation of the data from these interviews and from a focus group with other homeless Aboriginal men isolated the indicators of intergenerational trauma within four domains: individual, family, community, and nation.

Les peuples autochtones sont surreprésentés dans la population de sans-abri des centres urbains au Canada. Bien qu'il existe très peu de données pour expliquer ce phénomène, de plus en plus d'éléments provenant du nombre accru d'études de la santé mentale menées dans des collectivités autochtones semblent indiquer que les traumatismes intergénérationnels contribuent fortement à un éventail de comportements personnels, familiaux et communautaires. L'étude porte sur les antécédents familiaux personnels des hommes et vise à rechercher les liens entre le sans-abrisme personnel et des traumatismes intergénérationnels. L'interprétation des données recueillies dans le cadre d'entrevues et d'un groupe de discussion d'hommes autochtones sansabri classe les indicateurs de traumatismes intergénérationnels dans quatre catégories : personne, famille, collectivité et nation.


Over the last three decades, there has been a plethora of research and information on new approaches to the delivery of social work that professionals can draw upon to help best meet the needs of those seeking their assistance. Interventions strategies such as Brief Solution Focus Therapy, Motivation Interviewing, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) come to mind.

After two decades as a social work practitioner, I continue to struggle with the available assessment tools provided through traditional social work theory. For the most part, we work with a person or family in isolation from their extended family, community and nation. These particular approaches ignore the cultural context in which people exist. As an Aboriginal person, it is particularly frustrating as the dominant models ignore the historical context from which Aboriginal people have survived and which dominates their ability to respond to intervention strategies, such as those set out above. As a result, our efforts may be less than effective.

Those of us impacted by the vagaries of Aboriginal public policy can provide first hand testimony to the negative impact that public policies historically have had on our lives and on our families over several generations. For example, I was raised outside of my birth family and have traced my roots back to an extended family network that spreads across Ontario's near north. I am a member of the Sagamok First Nation, and my childhood was not out of the ordinary for Aboriginal children born in the fifties and sixties. From birth and until I was thirteen years old, I was placed in the residential care of the Sisters of Saint Joseph's. After legislative changes were made, making institutional care redundant, I was subsequently placed with the Children's Aid Society. As a teenager, I struggled with my feelings of anger, sadness, sorrow, loneliness, shame, confusion and abandonment, all of which are characteristic of children who are raised outside of their birth family. I was fortunate to complete high school and access a post-secondary education, graduating from a school of social work in my mid-twenties and embarking upon my career.

During my PhD studies, I came across the term lntergenerational Trauma. After hearing Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart speak about her research with the Lakota people, I began to examine my own life and that of the people whom I work with within the context of her model. …

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