(This is an article I wrote in July to express what was learned at a Suicide Prevention Consultation, in March. I’ve come to the conclusion that our churches, our diocese, send us to seminars and functions and we come away with this new knowledge, possible revelations, and great ideas, but have no where to express that to the wider chruch community. This is my attempt to share the experiences.)
I’ve been contemplating, for a while, how to share information that is disseminated, shared freely at conferences and consultations that we’re invited to participate in with those who can best use such information at the grass roots, you the members of the diocese of Brandon.
So, here’s my attempt to do such a thing, and I’m sure I’m going to leave something out.
At the end of March, Rev. Dcn. Flora Young and I were invited to participate in a Suicide Prevention Consolation in Toronto. This was a great time of gathering information not only on the long term and international effects of intergenerational trauma, but also to discover what others are doing to slow, and hopefully one day reverse the trends of suicide across the country. We were blessed to be joined by representatives from many diocese, and we were all willing to share our experiences, our discomfort with the topic, and our pain at the effect suicide has on us all.
Fr. Martin Brokenleg began the time together with a comprehensive talk on how trauma, and intergenerational trauma isn’t isolated to the indigenous peoples of North America. Rather, any people who have been conquered, who have been subjected to another’s idea of colonization is subject to these long-term effects, still today. Specifically, he referenced the Irish and the Scots in his explanation that it is the effects from outside, several generations ago, that has set in motion this pattern of intergenerational trauma we are identifying and dealing with today.
He also explained that such trauma not only affects our DNA, but it leads to patterns of abuse where the affected, abused, and self abused individuals habitually, yet subconsciously, turn away from patterns that can lead them into better lifestyle choices, that have the hope of introducing new patterns of doing, of being that will gradually break the effects of the trauma and abuse that leads to attempts of suicide. However, such are not the be all and end all of the work of the church, rather such information provides us with a scientifically, sociologically based starting point so that we understand why it is so difficult for individuals, groups, etc., to be able to ask for help, much less accept that help that is needed.
And this has not just affected the indigenous amongst us. Even those of us raised to adulthood by the boarding school mentality, by the ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ techniques of the 18th to 20th centuries are similarly affected by intergenerational trauma, as are our parents who had their own ‘crosses to bear’ in regard to the trauma of being young in Canada, in North America.
It was also pointed out that since it has taken several generations to get into such a ‘pickle’ that it will take equally that same amount of time to get out of it, both as individuals, and as the church. As much as we wish to see strides that are meaningful take root instantaneously, it will be the little steps accumulated upon each other that will make a foothold and an impact into this society wide pattern.
Another remarkable revelation, to me, was that we can see the effects of these patterns taking hold in the indigenous populations around us, yet, the Indigenous peoples of Canada can be related to ‘the canary in the coal mine’, What will affect us all is first seen and evidenced in them. So, then, perhaps the corollary of this is also true – what benefits them will benefit all Canadian society, providing we allow them to show us the way. Again, it will be a long process not only to get the non-indigenous to see that we are interconnected in our wellness, but that we are equally interconnected in our un-wellness as well. Although we are all Canadian, many in the broader Canadian society still see differences, divisions between one group and another.
But this isn’t a ‘dead end road’, rather let’s identify it as a mile marker, and someplace where we can take the next step forward, together, for the betterment of all Canadian society.
What has come out of this consultation is that we need to emphasize not ‘suicide prevention’, but rather Wellness, wholeness, care for body as well as the soul of those around us who are affected. Emphasis on physical care, emotional care and growth, and even, when needed, psychological, psychiatric and similar branches of professional help.
We need to uphold each other, support each other, work together for the betterment, for the teaching, for the understanding that we aren’t so different from each other. We need to look out for each other and guide each other in paths that not only lead to Christ, but to a better understanding of how we got here, and how we can move forward toward a better Canadian society – together.
None of this will be easy, but it will be worthwhile.
We need to treat each other, men, women, indigenous, non-indigenous, settler, newcomer, and even immigrant as equals, as fellow searchers for patterns that break the intergenerational trauma that affects us all. We don’t follow the ‘melting pot’ ideology of the immigrant days of the USA, but we do have a respect for multiculturalism that is uniquely Canadian. (Is this where I interject an ‘I’m sorry’, or an ‘eh’?) At the same time, we need to crosspollinate that multiculturalism so that we all know, all learn, that we are equally attached to the land, and that we are equally responsible for the earth, the air, the water, and all that live here who have more than two legs, or less than two legs. As the indigenous say, we the two legged are not alone. We are here with the four legged, the winged, and even those who swim or crawl in the earth.
We need to come together and understand each other in order to begin to heal the hurts we have experienced, each at the hands of the other. I’m not saying one way is right over the other, but even as children we needed to apologize to each other so that we can continue to walk together in peace, in harmony, in the love of Christ that exists between us. Someone once told me that when the Christian bishops and the Imam’s of the Holy Land sit down together, each meeting begins with an apology by the Christians to the Muslims for the horrors of the Crusades, and only then, can they be in a frame of mind to even hear what the other has to say, today. Perhaps this is a good place to start between one group and another?
We need to understand that we’re all in this together, and although that may seem like a daunting place to be, its somewhere to begin our journey, together, toward wholeness and the betterment of Canadian society.
I would encourage our indigenous brothers and sisters to continue the work they’ve begun toward embracing the spiritual practices that were so callously stripped away by those who, so many generations before, lost their connection to the land. You will be the ones to be able to lead the way for those of us who stand beside you. What you discover about how to break these cycles, to reintroduce healthy practices, healthy parenting, and healthy stewardship for all of creation will go so very far in helping the rest of us to follow where you lead.
You’ll notice I haven’t laid down concrete steps of how to work together, of what to do to encourage wellness, equality, and growth. But I will encourage conversation, consultation, sharing of ideas because what will work in Brandon may not work so well in Wabowden. What works in Minnedosa may not work so well in Birtle, or Virden, etc. We each need to look at the needs of our communities, our families, our homes, and make strides to help, to support, to uphold, to embrace and to work together.
We need to see each other not as different but as brothers and sisters, as fellow workers for the kingdom of God. Yet, even saying that, we need to understand First Nations Spirituality as well as we understand and adhere to Christianity. In working to overcome the effects of the Residential Schools, people are searching for, reaching for, the practices, the rites, the ceremonies that were so callously stripped away by those who didn’t understand either the connection between the first peoples and the land, any better than they understood the underlying aims of colonialism. In this we have much to learn from each other. At the same time, although some may walk by the path of Christianity, others may walk by First Nations Spirituality, or Judaism, or even Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, and many, many other expressions of faith, of worship of God (or in the nature of Zoroastrianism and Hinduism, gods) as our nation embraces those of other backgrounds, other understandings, other cultures. As we welcome those who have experienced trauma and traumatic episodes that have the possibility of affecting their children, grandchildren and so on.
Perhaps this is our greatest challenge: to uphold each other, and respect each other where we are, in our spiritual journey, as we strive to walk together, learning from each other, toward wellness and wholeness as Canadians, as individuals, as the children of God.
So, let me begin this road we walk, together, by saying with my whole heart that I am sorry for the work of the Residential Schools, the betrayal of the Treaties and the work of the Indian Act. I am sorry for the efforts of the Colonial methods that the Europeans brought to this Great Shore. And I give thanks that I am able to work with the First Peoples toward a better tomorrow than we have today.
Walking together, in Christ,
Rev. Dr. Rebecca Graham,
Rector, Christ Church – Anglican, The Pas.