Residential school survivors meet for ‘Breaking the Colonial Mindset’ conference in Winnipeg

Residential school survivors from across Canada are in Winnipeg for a conference hosted by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

Called “Breaking the Colonial Mindset,” the conference is focusing on trauma and surviving with the memories of the schools.

Gabor Maté, an expert on addiction, trauma and childhood development, addressed the survivors’ gathering about compassion, fatigue, burnout and trauma.

“The essence of trauma is that you lose the connection to yourself,” he said. “You lose the respect for yourself, love for yourself.  Now, Colonialism is trauma on a vast scale, which doesn’t just happen to individuals, it happens to whole peoples who lose their connection to themselves, their traditions and to their respect for themselves.”

Survivor Judy Pelly from Cote First Nation who now lives in Saskatoon, works for the City of Saskatoon as a cultural advisor and is also a Knowledge Keeper.

She said the effects of residential schools are still playing out in the health of Indigenous Peoples.

“One hundred per cent of the clientele that I work with that are over-represented in the health care system, in the criminal justice system, across Canada, as well as child apprehension,” said Pelly. “Worse than ever — in the health care system, we’re up here, in everything from cancer to diabetes to obesity, everything – it’s attributed to the residential school era, and what was done to our people.”

Viola Thomas, a third-generation survivor of the Kamloops Indian Residential School said she sees how the trauma of colonization has played a role in missing and murdered Indigenous women and in communities.

“In relation to the deep, deep, deep-rooted internalized violence within our communities and there really hasn’t been an effort to critically address this deep internalized violence that continues to exist within Indigenous communities, whether it’s urban Indigenous, or on-reserve Indigenous,” she said.

The conference runs until Aug. 31.

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