Abuse Is Wrong In Any Culture: for First Nations and Métis people

Why is this happening to me?

Abuse is wrong within all families and communities, including First Nations and Métis families and communities. Although violence and abuse exist across many societies and cultures, tolerating abuse has no part in First Nations and Métis culture or values.

In history, Aboriginal cultures depended on the contributions of every man, woman, Elder and child. Everyone had a place in the circle that was respected and valued. Women held powerful positions within their societies. They were respected for bringing forth new life and for caring for families and entire communities.

"...the colonization process ... saw communities losing control over family and culture. ... The impacts of forced removal of children from their families and communities and the abuse many endured in residential schools have been passed down generationally ... "set[ting] in motion an intergenerational transfer of trauma that continues to cause significant downstream damage to Aboriginal families, their children, and their grandchildren.""

(Aboriginal Victimization in Canada: A Summary of the Literature, Justice Canada, Victims of Crime Research Digest No. 3, April 2010).

  • Racism and the legacy of the residential schools contribute to the patterns of violence, which we see being repeated in many First Nations and Métis families and communities today.
  • Studies have pointed to these changes from outside that affected age-old Aboriginal societies, causing trauma from the loss of traditional teachings, culture and language. The impacts of this trauma have been passed on from generation to generation, affecting the ability to trust and support one another, and resulting in the feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness among many First Nations and Métis people today.
  • The result is that, in many Aboriginal communities, family violence involves more than just one family or individual, and so will require healing for the community, one individual and one family at a time. This is something that we need to understand because it can help us make positive and healthy changes in our own lives.
  • Damage to children when they suffer and witness abuse within the home feeds into continuing cycles of violence and abuse from one generation to the next. From the examples they see, it is easy for girls to expect abuse and to believe it is just part of a woman's life, and for boys to think that men are expected to act violently and abusively toward the women in their lives, whenever things go wrong or they are afraid or unhappy.

This is not to say that all children growing up in family violence will be abusers, or victims of abuse. Children can develop resilience that infuses a sense of security and safety in ways that will never leave that child; as adults, they may have the strength to choose to be neither abusers, nor let themselves be abused. Parents and other adults need to nurture the resilience of their children, and all the children in the community. Developing good character in children is vitally important whatever our life circumstances might be.

But it is often impossible for the abuse to stop by itself. The family will need counselling to break the cycle of violence and abuse, to work toward achieving well-being and personal peace.

Violence and abuse may be triggered by money problems, anger issues, jealousy, a lack of individual self-control or by any number of everyday situations. Many First Nations reserves and Métis communities do not have adequate housing, and overcrowding adds to the stresses of daily living. For some people, unemployment, a feeling of loss of control, and physical and psychological changes stemming from alcohol and substance abuse all contribute to unhealthy living that often includes behaviours such as abuse and violence.

However it starts, abuse and violence in families and between partners continues because some people believe they-their feelings, wants, needs, hurts, uncertainty—are "more important" than those of others, even someone they say they love. So they "allow" themselves to hurt that other person, often someone who cannot, or will not, fight back, such as a spouse, child or Elder. While the person causing the hurt may not understand why they are doing this, it is no reason for mistreating or violating others, and it never justifies these behaviours toward anyone.

"We sing for those who have been abused
We sing for those who have been ill used
We sing for those who are still bruised
We sing so they could seek the truth

For the children who had no clue
For the people who are confused
For the parents we never knew
All this for residential school."

From "We Sing: A Song For Our Families Who Experienced Residential School" reproduced with the permission of Mason Mantla

Studies have shown that many residential school survivors learned strategies to protect themselves, such as being silent, denying their experiences and not calling attention to themselves. These lessons had serious consequences for themselves and their children, including a reluctance to talk about family or community problems or to ask for help. There is confusion, too, because of the loss of cultural teachings, about how to apply Elders' teaching in today's society.

"Everybody knows about it, nobody does anything."

(from Aboriginal Women and Family Violence, Canada, National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada, 2008).

Young people who grow up in violent homes are sometimes told, "Don't talk about it". They learn not to expect help from the adults around them, and may think it is useless to try to change patterns of violence. Refusing to talk about violence and abuse can only lead to continued suffering.

You are not protecting or helping someone who has hurt you by not talking about it.

Family violence cycles must be broken by both men and women before more children are affected.

Healing must come from strengthening families through greater cultural awareness.

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