Episode 8 - The Legacies of Residential School

June 6, 2019 | 23:38 | 34MB | Download audio file

How does Yukon College teach its students to best support people who have been through residential school?

In this episode we will hear Jackie MacLaren will talk about her role working with residential school survivors.


Welcome to Walking our Path Together, a series of audio stories exploring Yukon College’s reconciliation journey.

Over the course of the series, we’ll hear from people who are connected with the College, and from people throughout the Yukon – Elders, educators, community leaders, and youth.

This is Episode 8: Legacies of Residential School

In the story we’ll look at Yukon College’s Practical Nurse and Healthcare Assistant programs and how they teach students to best support patients who have been exposed to trauma or intergenerational trauma through residential school.

Kim Diamond and Sue Stark are instructors at Yukon College. Kim with the Healthcare Assistant Program and Sue with the Practical Nurse Program.

About eight or nine years ago, some students in the healthcare system program, in their practicum, came and asked in class: “Okay, I have a resident I'm caring for who is an Elder, and who is a survivor of a residential school. We know that from various sources. What does this mean for how I care for her?" And we said, "Okay, we should really consider that and have that in the curriculum somehow. And it was right around the time too, that the TRC was coming out with the calls to action, and expectations of post-secondary institutions.

So we really examined that as faculty, and both in the HCA and PN program, and said, "Okay, what could we be doing so the caregivers – we're educating caregivers – are competent and compassionate in their work?" And we felt that if we were missing this critical piece of them understanding the individual, because we want our students to give individualized care that's specific to each person, we're missing a huge chunk if we don't understand the history for an individual or survivor or their family with regards to what happened in the Yukon to a lot of First Nations persons and communities.

So, we thought this is an imperative. Then we started discussing how we do it. And the first thing we did, I think, is we got together and we devised a one-day residential school workshop, which was for caregivers, specifically. And the morning, the First Nations Health Initiatives gave a bit of a background, which ended up in later years covering about half of the Yukon College grad competencies that came along later, so that was great, but it set up the afternoon where we had a very experienced RN and mental health practitioner, who also was a consultant with the TRC. So she was a real gift to us, and she shared stories of survivors, and how they made decision, and how their behaviour was impacted by that experience, and what caregivers need to understand, just in every day decisions that those people may make, that that might have been informed by a trauma, and how the body is impacted by trauma physically and emotionally and spiritually.

So, I think it was a real good starting point for the students and the faculty to get some basic understanding on that. So that's how it started, and we had that workshop for about seven or eight years now. It's been a while. And we're now at the point of looking at revising it and moving forward. So that's the history of that.

As educators in the healthcare field, we're always thinking about how to bring theory closer to practice. So, we can talk about things in the classroom, but how do we translate that into practice? So in College, we need to bring that into the lab experiences that students have, where they're actually practicing things. And then hopefully that will translate out into their clinical settings.

So, then we thought okay, in this lab experience, we must have an elder. And we happened to have an elder who is a graduate at the program, and works as a caregiver, currently. So she has all these different dimensions she can bring to the learning. And she came, and she helped us on various levels. She helped us prepare the students. So we talked a lot about ... Because the lab was about feeding. We chose the skill of feeding, one of our faculty brilliantly came up with the idea of feeding would be a good one, because there are trauma triggers related to residential school, but there's also positive triggers, like everyone ... You think of your favourite food that your mother made for you growing up, or ... And all this really enhances your wellbeing.

And so she was invaluable, but we also had a second elder that informed the learning. And it was an elder who shared oral tradition with us, and stories, and allowed us to then record that and give it to the students as pre-reading. So we wanted the literature we shared with them beforehand, and we did ... Sue searched quite a bit online and found a lot of good literature to tell them what cultural safety is and how it applies, but then we also added in this oral tradition, which was very specific to the Yukon and how food is harvested and gathered, and how food was used not just for healing, but for maintaining health and wellbeing, and how the Indian Act and residential schools and other things that occurred totally changed how that traditional knowledge was used and passed down, and how it still affects survivors and elders today who may have lost that connection with their knowledge, because they were taken away from home or weren't sure what they should ask or when they were later in life.

For me, I learned so much, and so listening to her, and sharing those stories, and the fact she allowed us to share that with students was I think a real privilege for us.

Lea-Ann Geddes:
Hi. My name is Lea-Ann Geddes and I'm from the Wolf Clan. I'm half Tahltan, half Tlingit, and I belong to the Ta'an Kwäch'än Council.

I took the Health Care Assistant program this year at the College. I've been very interested in the health field and wanting to pick up the skills from this course to help my community out and be a role model for other people that wanted to come into the course.

Our instructors said that we were going to take a residential school workshop. At first, I was a bit nervous about it because I've grown up as a residential school survivor. I didn't actually go to the residential school, but I am a survivor of my parents who did, so I know the impacts of it. Some people don't even know what the word means. So, I knew that I personally was in for a bit of a rough day emotionally, but I was really, really encouraged to make sure that we went because it is such an important piece of our community.

We have residential school survivors today that are doing very well, but on the other hand, some are really struggling. It's really sometimes not their fault that they're struggling. However, bringing the awareness of what the residential schools have done brings a better understanding for me and my classmates so that we can say, "I get it now." My co-students said they were really impacted on it because they didn't know. For them to say they didn't know and for me to say, "Well, this is what I grew up with," it's brings two different focuses together into one.

It's a very, very tough subject to talk about. However, I'm really encouraged to see that it is on the front lines of our teachings in the health field because sometimes people can't get an understanding of the residential schools until they've had people talk about it and share their experiences with it.

We were fortunate to have an elder with us who guided us through the discussions and shared his personal story with us. It really was able to bring the message home that some people can get out of it and live a healthy life.

For the people that can't, we'll always be praying for them and that hopefully they'll get through their struggles and that our classmates had a different lens of looking at it and that their impact was that they understood a little bit more of what it is. They're not just a person that's struggling. They're a person that's struggling because of what happened to them in the residential school.

Another message I took away from that was that they said that by the end of the day, we should do some self-care for ourselves. It was very, very important to hear that because this experience happened to our First Nation's people, but it's not something for us to carry. What we need to carry is to learn how to heal with each other and to understand the impacts of it and how we can better our community. It's going to be a few more generations before things change.

After this workshop was over, my classmates came up to me for at least a week or two and they apologized to me. It was a very emotional thing for me, and for them to say that to me really meant a lot.

Marie Kaye Martinez was in the same class as Lea-Anne. They were lab partners.

Marie Kaye Martinez: I'm Marie Kaye Martinez. I'm originally from Philippines. I already live here for almost 10 years. I'm completed this course HCA and I'm very happy that we're graduating this coming May 23. 

First of all, I'm not originally from here but I consider this is my second home, because I already here for 10 years, so it's my responsibility to know the history, so that I can share to this with my kids. 

It's very important for me to know what happened in residential school so that we're aware in our actions, when we do this kind of job. So that for me, it's like it's very important to know so that when I do this job, the respect is there, you know? I more sensitive about my actions, how they approach them, how they speak that to them, so it's very important for me.

I'm so sad when I found out what happened in this country. Every time I, for example, I see First Nation here, my perception of them has changed. My respect is for I respect for them a lot. It's very important, because I have two kids here and I need to teach them what happened before, so the learning continues, I think. 

Yves Paradis:
Hello, my name is Yves Paradis. I'm 36 year old, I am a life-long Yukoner, and I am taking the student Practical Nurse Program at the College. I've wanted to be a nurse for a long time as I feel like helping people is something I enjoy and I like to do. I feel like it would be a good career path for me. My son also has type one diabetes so I want to become a certified diabetes educator as well. This is the start of our third semester, so we have about 11 months left in the program. We've been here since September.

The component we talked about where I learned the most was when you're having interactions with people who are residential school survivors, there are important things that might trigger people.

Just to remember that there's a really huge component with First Nations people, residential school survivors in particular. Well, everyone actually… all First Nations people have a trickle-down effect from residential schools, and the effects that has had on them. And how as a health care provider I can work to not make it worse.

Things to look out for: triggers, emotional responses, when it's really obvious that someone’s been triggered and that their actions and reactions are based on that, just to be calm and take your time. Realize that there are really big things at play. There’s a lot of trauma that’s been inflicted, and just how to pay attention to that.

I haven’t had to live any of these experiences that residential school survivors and their children and their grandchildren have had. I don’t know anything about it really even though I know about it. I don't have any proper perspective on it. It's really good to remember that. Whatever I might think about it doesn't count. And just to remember to deal with people with kindness and compassion and really understand that there's big things at play. It’s a lot bigger than just me and the patient.

I guess the only thing I would say is I’m glad Yukon College makes that a mandated thing because there's so many students that aren't from the Yukon now and don't have at least an idea of what happened at residential schools and how recent that history has been. The horrible effect it has had on First Nations people.

Jackie Maclaren:
My name is Jackie Maclaren, and I've been in the Yukon since 1986, primarily working in the field of mental health counseling and community development.

I do contract work for the Northern Institute of Social Justice, and that started up about, I think it's about 10 years I've been doing work for them around vicarious trauma. And then it expanded into looking at the impact of trauma on workers, and recognizing the long-lasting impact that, not just colonization, but the main focus of the clients I worked with was around residential school - they were former residential school survivors, and seeing the need to really be able to provide them with the best service and be able to access them where they were at.

The trauma program, I'm really proud of because a lot of frontline workers have taken it, and I think one of the most profound, well there've been two really profound things. One was quite a while ago and there was a fellow who was a guard at the jail and he took the training, and he was crying when we did check out at the end of the day. And he said, "I need to go to work and apologize to some people, because I have really misjudged them." And I thought, "Oh wow. Super. You get it. You get it."

And the last one that we did with the health class, one of the students was teary and she said to the First Nation initiative staff, "I am so sorry you had to experience that. It just sounds so wrong." And so when people are getting that and reaching out, it doesn't take away the pain, it doesn't take away the bad things that happened, but it validates individuals who really just want to be heard and understood.

They know you can't fix it, but it helps to not feel that they're being judged all the time in the negative. And so I think that's one of the things that the College really provides a safe environment for those discussions. And again, with the First Nation Initiative staff, it's always put out there. You can ask any question you want. This is ... it's okay. This is a safe environment to ask those type of questions.

Joanne Henry: Joanne Henry. I am the Director here at CAIRS and CAIRS is Committee for Abuse in Residential Schools. My name is Keesaax. My parents are Don and Pat Henry. My grandmother is Maude Fox, and I am a member of the Crow Clan with Teslin Tlingit Council. 

We’re a safe place for residential school students to go to. If they have referral stuff they want us to help them with, then we'll help them with that. If they have counseling stuff they want to set up, we'll help them with that. We're not counselors here, but we listen because we've been there. We know what people have gone through, both intergenerational and as a residential student.

We have a wide range of employees here, so we can kind of cover all the bases. Myself, I went to residential school. My parents went to residential school, so I've got the having gone myself and intergenerational.

If they just want to come and sit, people want to sit here, then come and sit here. You want to come and watch a movie? Come and watch a movie. You want some help with something? Ask us, and we'll do our best to help you. Someone's having a rough day ... They may not come in here. They'll phone us; we'll go out and see them.

When I go home at the end of the day sometimes and I'm tired and I'm crying and I've had a rough go and I don't want to be here ... And believe me, I do have those moments. I'm only human. Sometimes my own trauma is just too much, and I'm like, "That's it. I'm done. I can't do this anymore. I don't want to do this anymore. I'm not going to do this anymore." Then I'm like, "But somebody has to do it." I don't know if what I do makes a difference. I don't know if it changes things. I do wonder if enough people will pick this up. I mean, I'm just one person. I just know how I work. I go, "Is it my responsibility?" I want to whisper real quietly, "No." But on the other hand, I don't want to say someone's got to do it, but the door's been opened. The door's been opened. I hope more people try to start understanding it. This happened here in Canada. It didn't happen overseas. It happened here. We had four residential schools in Whitehorse. We had one in Dawson. We had one at Shingle Point. Those schools existed. They were here. First Nation kids were taken out of their homes in our little, tiny communities and put in these schools for whatever reason they thought they should be put in there.

We didn't get educated. It's not like we went to residential school and the whole world was at our doorstep. We went to residential school. We were starved. We were beaten. We were sexually abused. We were physically abused. We were mentally abused. And we were spiritually abused. Residential school did nothing good for us. Maybe for a few it did, but it traumatized us, and as a result, it traumatized our families and it traumatized their families. There is nothing beautiful about residential school, and people need to understand that, and they need to understand that you don't just get over it.

We are humbled and grateful to the knowledgeable Yukoners who took their time to be a part of this project, and to help tell this story.

This audio story was produced by Leighann Chalykoff for Yukon College.

Original music is by Jona Barr.

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