Aboriginal Suicide

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Suicide and Healing:
Aboriginals Overcoming the Hardships and Barriers

Aboriginal peoples have had to endure many tragedies throughout history, which has affected them emotionally and mentally. It is no wonder that this group of people are amongst the highest suicide rates in Canada (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1995). This is a look at those tragedies and how it is tied in with suicide, also mechanisms used by Aboriginals to start the healing process. Definition of Suicide amongst Aboriginals

Suicide and its roots in Aboriginal communities is said to be one of the many outcomes of colonialism and are matters of great concern. The impact of someone dying from suicide affects the family and the community. Many contributing factors of suicide and its attempts in both Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal are as followed: sexual abuse, family violence, solvent abuse, addictions, lack of proper leadership, deterioration of family structure, etc. Studies have shown that the rate of suicide of all age groups amongst Aboriginals is 2 to 3 times higher than compared to the rate of non-Aboriginals. When it comes to the youth it is 5 to 6 times higher. This could be due to the fact that Aboriginal communities are so close knit that when one commits suicide it causes a ripple effect. That being said we must take into consideration that, “suicide is not just a problem in itself, but the symptom of deeper problems” (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1995, p.2). Residential Schools

In the early 19th century the Canadian government took it upon themselves to educate and care for the Aboriginal peoples. They thought that the best way in doing so was to assimilate Aboriginals with Christian beliefs, the English language and Canadian customs. Their idea was that Aboriginals would take their adoptive lifestyle and teach it to their children, with the notion that the native traditions and practices would be diminished or completely abolished within a few generations. The Canadian government felt that children were easier to mold than an adult (N.A., 2010). They wished to minimize the amount of contact a child had with his or her parents and elders, so Aboriginal children were forced to relocate off reserve to a boarding school. Here the children would learn how to survive in mainstream society, and forget who they were and what their culture had taught them. The schools were not geared toward academics, but sought to train them in manual labour and industrial work. These Aboriginal children were forced to live, work and learn in unsafe conditions; due to the fact that facilities were not up to par, and the cheapest of supplies were used to erect the buildings (Kirmayer et al., 2007). The church officials used punishment to humiliate, undermine and cause pain to the children. For instance, upon arriving at the residential school the children were assigned numbers that would identify them and given severe haircuts; hair has tremendous symbolism in many Aboriginal cultures. Many of the children were sexually abused, and in most cases it did not stay closeted in the residential schools, but made its way back to the communities where the victims would then become the perpetrators (Kirmayer et al., 2007).

Indian agents saw the Aboriginals extended family living as unfit and unnatural, and sought to shape them into a ‘normal’ nuclear family. Aboriginal children were taking from their homes and placed in residential schools, which were usually located a significant distance off reserve. This made it nearly impossible for the families to visit one another. The children were allowed to write letters in order to keep in contact with their family, but the letters were looked over by the school officials to ensure no complaints were being made about their harsh treatment. This form of assimilation had a harsh impact on aboriginal community, culture and society. It also took a toll on the parenting practices amongst many of the...
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