Sexual abuse is NOT O.K. :The Aftermath of Residential Schools

The aftermath of the residential school system in the Northwest Territories is a continuing epidemic of low self-esteem, buried pain and alcohol and substance abuse in a higher percentage of people than the rest of Canada. Drug and alchohol rehabilitation centres tend to be offered in the South as opposed to building healing centres in the communities themselves. Because family and the traditional way of life is so unique in the remote, Northern locations there is a great reluctance and sometimes a legitimised fear of leaving the community to access this kind of help. Those who do access the rehab centres return only to find little resources to help them from relapsing.  Family and traditional hunting, fishing, traditional sewing of coats and mukluks, and other traditional art and crafts is still alive and strong and means everything to a people intent on recovering what from the the residential school system attempted to take away. 

But when there is dysfunction in a family a person is not only faced with leaving the familiarity of their family in order to find safety from abuse, but is often looking at leaving a whole way of life in order to secure safety only to be faced with the grief and loss of being separated from the home of their cultural identity.  While many in isolated Northern communities have managed to rise above the cruelties of the residential school system that caused the stripping of a person’s very identity and have risen up to “soar like eagles” as the scriptures tell us, the underlying pain of the past that is still very much ‘there’ means that many are still resorting to unhealthy means to cope through alcohol and drugs. The scripture tells us, “But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). This is not only referring to the eradication of evil when final safety can be found in Heaven, but what can be found now by competetant, knowledgeable, spiritual assistance that will bring healing in spite of what has happened to us.  It would be good if discussions could be facilitated for survivors to talk about what THEY would find helpful and for the community as a whole to decide what specialists in the clinical, and spiritual realm they would like gathered together  and how and in what facility they would like the gathering to take place, including private spaces for one on one assistance for those who are not yet ready for group activities. The clinicians would likely include some survivors who have gone on to obtain the expertise to turn their pain into gain for others with the professional sensitivity required in the realm of abuse.  Competent support systems can be in placed in the very communities in which people live. Research has shown that accountability is far more effective if the whole community is involved, i.e. the perpetrators have no place to hide. The offending abusers can be held accountable by the whole community in the here and now so that it is the abusers who are required to leave and not those seeking safety from abuse. This, indeed, is the ideal for all abuse everywhere, but when in an isolated community where the only way in and out is a very expensive plane ride, then this does warrant special attention.

Support groups and specialist counsellors and clergy with adequate awareness of the dynamics of abuse are very important for those setting out on their healing path. Traditional spaces of safety and healing and being able to TELL stories could be part of fostering  more understanding of each other’s needs. And, most importantly, the perpetrators be the ones to leave for their treatment and/or incarceration instead of disenfranchising the survivors. Those who are actively seeking healing in the communities themselves need to be helped to come together to discover what THEY think will help if a difference is to be made.

When the issue of sexual abuse continues to occurs in small, isolated Northern communities because help is not being accessed, whether it is an historical disclosure or a disclosure of a current situation, in my role as pastor and counselor,  individuals have told me there is often a feeling of having no place to turn that they trust and no place to go that understands their unique needs (i.e. cultural needs) to make things better. What agencies from the South are needing to recognise is that families in indigenous communities are faced with needing to go for help to the very agencies who historically once stole their children away from them, i.e. the police and Indian agents who were following governments orders to remove children from their communities and transport them to the residential schools, the social workers who removed children from their homes to be adopted and “assimilated” in so-called “Christian” families down South,  and the church-run residential schools whose mandate it was to ‘educate’ children ‘out’ of all that identified them as who they were as a human being and introduced a cruel and punishing god to them who had nothing to do with who our Creator God is at all, simply by the harsh methods chosen to do this.

Even though there are some indigenous social workers, teachers, medical staff, police and clergy rising up from the communities themselves, these are still too few and far between, meaning that most police, social workers, teachers, and medical staff are currently necessarily flown up from the South. The very educational system that will enable children to go to college to qualify for these positions to change this situation, is still understandably seen by many as a product of the South. And even though police, the churches, social workers and the educational system are becoming more sensitive to the indigenous culture and historical tragedies that have taken place it is still so difficult for many people to trust enough to fully embrace the educational system and access the help that is needed.   Help that heals has to be applied for and cannot be imposed. People have to feel safe before they can move forward. The very system that took children and put them in a place that was found to have abused them in the most abominable way, is now expecting the same community to reach out to them for help to recover from this past. Things HAVE changed and real help IS there but until trust can be regained, families will continue to  be reluctant to reach out for help and to take up the professional positions themselves. The result is that sexual abuse of children is found to be at least five times higher in small, isolated Northern indigenous communities than the rest of Canada. Conversations around this need to take place to discover what can take place to bring a sense of safety so more people WILL reach out for help. Maybe just the acknowledgement that this IS what we are dealing with, will be enough. For the most part, hurting people just need to be HEARD and BELIEVED and have their pain VALIDATED. 

Sexual abuse is not O.K. What IS O.K. is to seek help and to protect your children. If someone is telling you that it is not O.K. to “tell” on a family member, or telling you not to ‘out’ an organisational leader but to deal with it privately, “outing” the abuser is not betraying them. Dealing with “it” privately almost certainly will ensure, sadly, that the abuse will continue, whatever the abuser may say to the contrary, they are skilled manipulators which is how they were able to abuse in the first place. The most important thing is to get the abuse to stop. What is also important is to hold the abuser accountable. This is not “ruining” the abuser’s reputation, they have already done that themselves, but it is possibly the last chance they might have to make themselves right with God.

If you decide to ‘out’ the abuser do not warn him or her or try to challenge them yourself as you could be further victimised, whether it is emotionally, physically, spiritually or sexually, there is a risk of further harm to you in doing this. Get professional help from sexual abuse specialists in the field to prepare yourself and to gather supports around you before finally deciding to take any action. It is also important not to give the abuser a ‘heads up’ that they are about to be held accountable. If the specialists in the field, i.e. the police and social workers are the first to interview the abuser then there is more chance that they will admit their guilt and save their victims from so much extra heartache that the legal system can bring about.

It is important to remember that boys are just as much at risk as girls. If you think it is safe to let your boy children play alone outside until late hours and not your girls, this is faulty thinking. While a family doesn’t want to live in fear every time your children go out to play, it is advisable to not let any children out late in any community unsupervised. Predators can get to know this. If you are unconvinced of the need for this, I suggest you take advantage of the public access to the court system to confirm the need for this. You may be shocked at the number of sexual abuse and sexual assault cases that come before the courts that involve the people who live around you.

The article given underneath states that abusers were abused as children. To start with, NOT all predators were abused as children. Pornography and just plain sexual deviance plays its part. Making a statement like this MUST be qualified. It is FALSE to take from this that all those who have been sexually abused as children are at risk of sexually abusing others. Most people who have been sexually abused as children do NOT abuse others. Those few who have gone on to sexually abuse others have been found to be those who grew up without ANY positive influence in their lives. some of whom went for help, but instead of being helped, were not believed and continued to be further hurt instead. For example, when some of the boys at Mount Cashel orphanage, an insititution run by priests in the RC church in Newfoundland ran away to get help, all that happened was that they were taken back and continued to be abused. Some of these boys went on to sexually abuse some of the younger boys, but others went through this and did NOT go on to abuse others. There is far more involved than just having been abused yourself. Don’t let others put this burden on you and don’t fear that you might hurt others. Some of us do not abuse others but abuse ourselves instead through drugs and alcohol. Still others somehow make it to a mature age and then, when there was more help in the community, find counsellors who DO listen to us and who DO believe us. 

So it is important as counsellors to ‘hear’ our clients. It is important as pastors to ‘hear’ our flock and have a list of specialists that we can refer hurting people to. It is important as parents and grandparents to ‘hear’ our children and to believe them and to take action to protect them. As I have said, most people who have been sexually abused as children do not go on to sexually abuse others when they are older. Most of the abuse is committed by the same abusers who are not held accountable and who are then enabled to go on and abuse the next generation and the next and others in the community. 

The most simple form of child abuse prevention with an organisation is never to leave your child with one adult. And for an adult who is running an organisation to never be alone with one child so there will be no false accusations. 

If you were abused by a relative or parent, don’t assume it is safe to leave your children with that same person. People don’t get better by themselves. The only treatment that has been found to work to any extent has been at least three years in a residential rehab and then constant surveylance and treatment for the rest of the person’s life, which includes NEVER being alone with children again. If we are being pressured by other family members not to upset the abuser, we can tell them that the most loving thing we can do for that abuser is to make sure that we do not enable them to ever hurt another person again. Holding a person accountable to goodness is loving them. To allow them unsupervised access to children is to be an accomplice in child abuse.

If you decide that it is your time to disclose abuse to the authorities don’t be shocked if other abused people in your family are not as ready as you. Expect them to be angry at you. They may say all kinds of hurtful things to you; even deny that the abuse happened to them too when you know that it did. Sometimes denial is the only way some people survive until they have enough support to have the strength to go on a healing path for their life. If this is your time it is best to meet with  a counsellor and to carefully prepare for all the things that might happen to you as a result of your disclosure; to set up supports around you and to avoid being shocked at adverse behaviour towards you by those whom you lease expect. Sexual abuse affects a person to the core of our being and readiness is so important. Going through the court system is healing for some but can be destructive for others. You may discover that for some reason your situation may not even be taken to court. You need to be prepared for this. If you are convinced that you want to take the stand as a witness, should this be offered to you, you need to be prepared for the destructive cross-examination you might face from the abuser’s lawyer if he does not pleed guilty. As survivors we have a long and hard journey, and we all have a different healing path, but the most important thing is to take steps to take back your power and to place the blame where it should be, fairly and squarely on the perpetrator’s shoulders so that we can live shame-free. 

Remember also that God was NOT in the residential school system. God’s heart broke when the government and the organised churches at the time put their evil plan into action in the name of “Christianity.” Those who have not understood the harm they did and have not repented WILL be held accountable by God.

Help IS available today. If you don’t get on with one counsellor, don’t give up, seek out another. It is your right. Seek out spiritual help as well with those who have theological training or traditional training in this area of life and who do not judge or impose any “quick fixes.” If you experience judgment and harsh demands of what you should or should not do then stay away from such people. God Bless those of you who are fellow survivors. May God hold you in the palm of His hand and as you receive healing, may you come together with others to then help them out in their healing path. Amen.

Please go to the article below, but be warned, there are some details of abuse in the first part of the article. So if you are sensitive to this then go past the dear woman’s story who is describing what happened to her and go on to the second paragraph entitled “Painful Legacy.”…/ind…/indigenous-sexual-assault-1.3839141

Sexual abuse haunts children in Indigenous communities

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