Home > Indigenous Youth and Violence
Vol. 7 Issue 1

Indigenous Youth and Violence
by Stan Williams

For most of my younger years as a child, we ran from the “Ministry.” Being a survivor of the residential school internment camps, my father was very aware government policies were meant to erase our language, our history and our identity. Later on throughout my childhood, my brothers and I bounced around to many different homes.

The one home we landed in which lasted the longest is where alcoholism, family violence and dysfunction became a daily routine. I came to accept and bury this as “normal.” I remember coming home on my birthday to the attempt of a suicide, just outside my bedroom door. As tragic as it was, the everyday dysfunction of this family was my home then. I knew no different, other than that this was the opportunity I was given to make the best of at the time. I didn’t realize that internalizing this would hurt me, causing violent mental traps and barriers for me later on in life. And at the same time, there wasn’t any helpline or anything of the sort to call on for support.

Having learned the stories and experiences of my father’s childhood “care” in this same home,after residential school in the late 60’s, my intergenerational story didn’t seem much different.

Up until then, I had been raised within a world separate from community and culture with my sole parent. We were dealing with daily survival: food, water, housing, medicine… that sort of stuff.

Whether or not my childhood in “care” is similar to other native kids growing up today, the fact of the matter is things haven’t gotten much better, and many of us are still being denied the right to raise our children in our communities. According to Cindy Blackstock of the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada, we have “three times the amount of our children in Ministry care today, in 2004, than at the height of the residential schooling era in the late 1950’s.” THREE TIMES! And yes, this statistic does take into account our everincreasing population today! Government strategies for ‘child welfare’ have gone from cultural genocide to a subtle ‘acceptance’ of present day assimilation and extinguishment approaches, all within the last 50 years.

During a recent gathering focusing on violence in our communities, some of the most important areas we talked about revolved around personal safety, health and well-being. We need to reclaim our strength through our identity; we need to reclaim our language and our sexuality. We need to respect our bodies, our minds, our spirit and our souls. We need to reconnect with our land bases. We need to re-bridge the gap between youth and elders. Growing up, with elders and their knowledge base was non-existent for me.

If you don’t know how or what, or even worse, where to ask your elders about tradition and knowledge, how will one ever ? nd out and rebuild the pieces needed for the future? The courage to ask seems to be just as important as the courage to give. We are in a time of rebuilding trust, and on our way forward to respecting open, honest, sharing with no strings attached, for the hope of positive health for our next generation to come.

Some of our most important work today revolves around ensuring the safety and protection of our young people, especially for our children who are the keepers of the future.

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