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.