Evaluation of the Bringing them home and Indigenous mental health programs
1.7 The history of forced removal overseas and government responses
It is instructive to examine the history of forced removal overseas and government responses to this, as it demonstrates in relation to Australia that:
- there have been similar practices of forced removal of Aboriginal peoples in other countries
- there have been similar very negative SEWB consequences for these peoples
- the government responses to removal practices and their consequences have differed, with a broader range of responses in Canada in particular (including a formal government apology and compensation).
1.7.1 The Canadian residential school systemBetween 1892 and 1969, generations of Aboriginal children in Canada were sent to government-sponsored residential schools run by the Roman Catholic, Anglican, United, Presbyterian and other churches (AHF 2006, piii). Many of the children in residential schools suffered physical and sexual abuse, as well as imposed alienation from families, communities and cultures, which have in turn led to a legacy of abuse and intergenerational trauma (AHF 2006, piii). Outside of the residential school system, large numbers of Aboriginal children were also taken from their families and communities and placed in foster care from the 1960s.
Narratives and life histories suggest that the residential school experience has had enduring psychological, social and economic effects on survivors, and that 'the residential school system inflicted terrible damage not just on individuals but on families, entire communities and peoples' (LCC 2000, p2). Trans-generational effects from the residential schools system include:
- structural effects of disrupting families and communities
- transmission of explicit models and ideologies of parenting based on experiences in punitive institutional settings
- patterns of emotional intimacy in childhood
- repetition of physical and sexual abuse
- loss of knowledge, language and tradition
- systematic devaluing of Aboriginal identity (Kirmayer et al 2003, p18).
Individual and collective traumaFor Canadian Aboriginal peoples, the revelations of the residential schools experience have made the notion of individual and collective trauma salient. The literature notes that metaphors of individual and collective trauma may have both positive value and limitations. On the one hand, the metaphor of trauma ‘draws attention to the severity, shock and violence of the physical and psychological injuries inflicted on Aboriginal peoples, locating the origins of problems in a shared past, thus motivating the reconstruction of historical memory and collective identity. On the other hand current trauma theory and therapy tend to focus on the psychiatric disorder of PTSD, and
may give insufficient attention to the other dimensions of experience that may be profoundly transformed by massive trauma and abrogation of human rights, [including] issues of secure attachment and trust, belief in a just world, a sense of connectedness to others and a stable personal and collective identity.
(Kirmayer et al 2003, p20) Top of page
Restoring Dignity – the report of the Law Commission of CanadaIn 2000 the Law Commission of Canada (LCC) published a report entitled Restoring Dignity: Responding to Child Abuse in Canadian Institutions. While the report focused broadly on the issue of child abuse in institutions, it drew particular attention to the experience of Aboriginal children in residential schools. This included disclosures of physical and sexual abuse which has left many communities the legacy of these issues as well as family violence, and drug and alcohol abuse (LCC 2002).
The Restoring Dignity Report indicated that survivors seek:
an acknowledgement of the harm done and accountability for that harm; an apology; access to therapy and to education: financial compensation: some means of memorialising the experiences of children in institutions; and a commitment to raising public awareness of institutional child abuse and preventing its recurrence.
(LCC 2000, p3)
The Canadian response to the residential schools system has included:
- Issuing of a Statement of Reconciliation (1998) that expressed profound regret to the Aboriginal community for its past mistakes and acknowledged the role the Government played in the development and administration of the residential school system.
- Facilitating a series of nine exploratory dialogues across the country with survivors of residential schools abuse, Aboriginal leaders and healers, and churches' representatives, reflecting principles of respect and engagement with those affected, helping to open lines of communication and assisting all involved to understand the needs of survivors and their communities and to develop options for addressing those needs.
- Building and implementing models to provide appropriate responses to claims relating to abuse at residential schools, including a number of dispute resolution pilot projects. While each of these is negotiated directly with a group of survivors, reflecting particular needs and priorities, there are a number of common elements among the different projects to protect the fairness and accountability of the process, and respond to survivors' needs.
- Funding to support community-based healing initiatives to address the legacy of physical and sexual abuse in residential schools.
- Funding to support a broad spectrum of initiatives to preserve and advance Aboriginal languages and culture (LCC 2002). Top of page
1.7.2 New ZealandThe history of colonisation in New Zealand was marked strongly by wars, disease and the large-scale relocation of Maoris from hilltop land to coastal areas, resulting in a serious decline in the Maori population. Maoris were schooled in missionary schools which were required to teach in English and suppressed Maori history, language and culture. Beyond this however, there do not appear to be extensive parallels between the New Zealand experience and the brutality and abuse experienced in the industrial schools system in the US, the residential schools system in Canada, or removal practices in Australia.
However, post-colonial program and policy responses in New Zealand have produced a number of good practice approaches from which other colonised nations can learn. These are discussed in sub-section 1.9.
1.7.3 United StatesThe United States introduced a system of missions and schools in the 1600s, and industrial boarding schools in the late 1800s. Indigenous American students in the militaristic industrial boarding school system were forcibly taken from their families as hostages to 'guarantee their parents' and communities' good behaviour and cooperation with federal agents' (Archuleta et al 2000, p14). Adolescents attending boarding schools were placed in non-Native households to work as farm hands and domestic servants during holidays as part of the 'outing' program. The underlying purpose of the industrial schools system and the 'civilizing' process of placing Indian children in white households was assimilation into non-Indian culture.
The issue of the Meriam Report by the federal government in 1928 radically altered the overt policy goal of assimilation. The Report attacked the physical conditions of the boarding schools, the enrolment of pre-adolescent children and the inadequate staffing. A new era of progressive education followed, which allowed for the introduction of cross-cultural components, such as local customs, practices, art, music and religion (Szasz 1999). Assimilationist policies returned following World War II however, and remained until the release of the Kennedy Report in 1969 which stated that conditions for American Indians had not changed since the Meriam Report. In 1970 the American government issued its Indian self-determination policy and reaffirmed the special legal status of Indians.
There were a number of parallels between the American industrial schools system and the Canadian residential schools system – 'violence, abuse and neglect stemmed from the boarding schools' entrenched commitment to erasing Indian identity' (Archuleta et al 2000, p42).
Duran and Duran (1995; 2000) are strong proponents of post-colonial psychology in the US, and they have developed a therapeutic treatment model that addresses the intergenerational effects of PTSD. Critical to the model is the Native American psychology and worldview rooted in the particular culture, values and tribal conditions of the client.
As was observed in the Australian context in Ways Forward, Duran and Duran observe that 'many Native American people are diagnosed based on erroneous criteria; the diagnostic process never takes a historical perspective in the placing of a diagnosis on the client' (2002, pp52-53).
1.7.4 GreenlandAccording to the AHF, the colonisation process appears to have been less overtly brutal in Greenland than in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. And while Denmark's influence is certainly felt, the fact that Inuit have remained the majority population 'had a mitigating effect' (AHF 2006, p35). Greenlandic Inuit, despite the benefits of being a population majority and having achieved a level of political self-determination, have nonetheless experienced 'distressingly high suicide rates' (AHF 2006, p37).
A series of studies of the Inuit in Greenland suggested that suicidal thoughts were found to be more prevalent in those with the least traditional childhood and who speak the least Greenlandic, leading the authors to conclude that 'a more traditional lifestyle mitigates against suicide' (AHF 2006, p36).
Examples of good practice from overseas are contained in sub-section 1.9.