Addictions - we’ve heard of the destructive ways they can rip a family apart, leave a trail of turmoil and shattered dreams, broken homes, broken promises, incarcerations and suicides. We’ve all heard of how addictions can result in the abandonment and neglect of children, the deprivation of emotional support and comfort from their caregivers, void of a loving and safe environment. The sad reality is that addictions lead to the abuse of children; emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually and sexually, most often from loved ones. For many Aboriginal people, this legacy of unresolved trauma, shame and betrayal stems from the violence of colonialism and its intergenerational cycle.
Many of us Aboriginal people have endured so much. The ways in which we cope with the impacts of colonialism has ineffectively been through dangerous addictions. It's a way to numb the pain and the losses- a loss of innocence because of abuse suffered through childhood, a loss of cultural identity, of language, of cultural safety and trust, a loss of traditional knowledge, of family, the list goes on... With this in mind, it goes without saying that the disconnect we face with ancestral and traditional roots has a noticeable impact on all Aboriginal people- but most importantly our children. Now, how can we resolve addictive behaviours? How can we break the cycle of intergenerational trauma? How do we begin to embark on our healing journeys?
In addressing addictions, answers can be found in the wisdom of our ancestral and traditional roots. By reviving and reconnecting with this way of life, we can transform the lives of our families, the lives of our children and the lives of generations to come. The teachings of our ways of life has always emphasized all aspects of staying connected physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, something colonial society has never taught. The benefits are real; restored safety for our children, a renewed sense of belonging, strength in cultural identity, a positive consciousness of one’s well-being, development of our communities, familial reconciliations, only to name a few.
In the words of Dr. Gabor Mate, a leading expert in addictions: “Hunter-gatherers don’t believe that a five-month-old should be independent enough to “cry it out” and put himself to sleep. That kind of practice is encouraged only in so-called civilized societies. When children in a tribal society are distressed, they are immediately picked up and soothed, before their brain is overwhelmed by stress hormones during a crucial period of its development “. As Aboriginal people, we have always traditionally emphasized a mindfulness towards our future generations.
Such a way of life has proven to be far more promising for us, compared to the one colonialism has tried to impose on us. By embarking on our healing journeys it will cause a ripple effect that will inspire and empower our future generations to follow in our footsteps.
Wayne Rabbitskin is an Indigenous Certified Prevention Specialist and a survivor of many life challenges. As a Nishiiyuu man, Wayne is on a journey to honor his ancestors’ valor. He is an activist for ending violence against women, and in 2013 walked from Chisasibi to Mistissini (1,000 km) to raise critical awareness. You can watch Wayne in season 3 of Working It Out Together in the episode The Long Road Home.