Colonialism is the main cause of trauma, intergenerational trauma, and marginalization of Canadian Aboriginal women who have lost their sense of health and wellness, which has led to countless disappearances and murders.
Trauma can be defined as an “extreme, important event against a person’s body or self-concept” (Frideres, 2011, p. 80), and unless measures are taken to counteract the serious injury and harm caused by trauma it can result in the inability of a person to self-heal (Frideres, 2011). Trauma in Aboriginal people started happening over 500 years ago. This trauma is a result of cumulative emotional and psychological wounding resulting from massive group tragedies that have carried across generations (Wesley-Esquimaux & Smolewski, 2004). In the process of colonization Canada attacked the core of the Aboriginal peoples’ identity, their family, language, and spirituality. The term “soul-wound” has been used when describing the historical trauma felt from losing land, lifeways, and cultural as a whole (Frideres, 2011).
The period termed the “cultural transition” that happened soon after Aboriginal peoples made contact with the colonizers, was when they were initially stripped of their cultural authority and social power. Once Aboriginal peoples realized they had minimal control over the devastating events, they began to display behavioural patterns of helplessness and giving up (Wesley-Esquimaux & Smolewski, 2004). These behaviours of helplessness led to many of the Aboriginal peoples choosing to withdraw socially, reduce their cultural and spiritual activities, and engage in repetitive cycles of conflict. The continued acts of conflict in turn led to profound psychological problems (drug addiction, sexual abuse, alcoholism, and domestic violence), and social alienation (Wesley-Esquimaux & Smolewski, 2004). These unhealthy behaviours were magnified during the residential school period, and coupled with the loss of story-telling due to the suppression of cultural activities by government, their cultural identity formation was disrupted (Wesley-Esquimaux & Smolewski, 2004).
Ethnocide was a result of the changes brought by missionaries to cause religious transformation and cultural destruction. Without having access to economic resources after being stripped of their cultural practices, and their social structure being destroyed, Aboriginal people quickly became a marginalized group. Impoverishment, loss of any remaining control over their lives, degradation of the status of women, loss of the power of self-government, and re-education of Aboriginals in government-supported and Christian mission schools, are additional factors in causing the marginalization of this group (Wesley-Esquimaux & Smolewski, 2004).
Further marginalization took place in residential schools which operated from the 1800s until 1996. Aboriginal children were removed from their homes to be assimilated into “civilized culture”. Here many Aboriginals suffered from...