“Our Healing Starts With Our Women”: Wolamsotuwakonol of the Indian Residential School Experience

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University of New Brunswick


As esteemed members in many Indigenous societies, Indigenous women often held distinct, vital, and powerful roles. Beginning early in the colonization of what is now known as Canada, the Indian residential school system separated children from their families and communities, and many Survivors experienced trauma. The forceful imposition of Eurocentric, patriarchal norms for the purpose of assimilation also targeted the importance of Indigenous women and girls. Current evidence has established that intergenerational effects exist for descendants of Survivors. However, there remain important questions about how this legacy is understood, from the perspectives of women. An Indigenous research paradigm and a Community-Based Collaborative Participatory Action Research (CBCPAR) approach were used to guide this research project. Engaged in this participatory process of research, the purpose of this project is to explore the experiences of Wolastoqi women who are descendants of Survivors. Five Wolastoqi women participated in three sharing circles and symbol-based reflection with the handdrum. Collaborative analysis with an Indigenous research team resulted in seven themes: (a) ‘our healing starts with our women,’ (b) colonialism, (c) altered social realities, (d) disconnected relationships, (e) Wolastoqey identity, (f) generational healing, and (g) ‘the drums speak.’ The participants shared powerful accounts that identified the specific ways that the intergenerational effects persist for them, and the measures they take to resist and recover from colonial violence and oppression. The findings have implications for nursing to understand and address the intergenerational effects of Indian residential school, and to support the use of a relationship-based approach to healing.