Wood's Homes Blog

Hope and Reconciliation: Decolonizing Approaches to Children’s Mental Health

December 11, 2018
By Dr. Angelique Jenney, Wood's Homes Research Chair in Children's Mental Health, and Tye Rhyno, Wood's Homes Indigenous Liaison
Hope and Reconciliation: Decolonizing Approaches to Children’s Mental Health
"While Indigenous children make up 10 per cent of the youth population in Alberta, they represent 70 per cent of all children in care."

Recently, after spending several days at a National Child Welfare Conference, I can’t stop thinking about the ways in which harms were done (and continue to be done) to Indigenous children and families. These were carried out all in the name of child protection and devastatingly, I heard how these harms have been linked to ongoing violence against Indigenous women and girls. Learn more here.  

I wish I could highlight only the historical devastation of the Sixties Scoop but the crisis of Indigenous children being over-represented in care is ongoing and needs to be at the forefront of our services for children. Learn more here.

Having had the opportunity to listen to Raven Sinclair tell her poignant and powerful story recently in Calgary, I’ve been thinking about ways to keep this conversation going, not just in the media and social work organizations and classrooms, but also in our homes. Check out this excellent post on CBC about how to talk about truth and reconciliation with your children.   

Making the link to the ways in which harms to children become harms to adults is an important one. I recently listened to Michelle Robinson at a University of Calgary event where the treatment of Indigenous Women by Canada’s Criminal Justice System was discussed. Robinson, who is Indigenous liaison for 12 Community Safety Initiative and a member of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Calgary committee, sagely commented: “High risk lifestyles are not a choice but are by design of the Indian Act.”  We can and must do better. 

Dr. Cindy Blackstock, a powerful advocate for the rights of Indigenous children is quoted as saying “First Nations children have spent over 66 million nights away from their families. That’s 187,000 years of childhood. And in too many cases those children are being placed in non-Aboriginal homes where they’re not learning their culture, they’re not learning their connections to their families, they’re not learning their languages.” Learn more here.

Blackstock also directly makes the link to childhood harms being repeated in violence against women: “What I don’t want to see is another generation of First Nations adults having to recover from their childhoods as so many survivors of the residential schools have had to do and as so many families of the murdered and missing women are now doing.” 

So how can we, in the mental health field, begin to address both historical and ongoing harms to Indigenous children who still find their way into our systems and services? There remains a concept of ‘cultural confusion’ within organizations and how to create meaningful relationships with culture. 

At Wood’s Homes, we are challenged to deal with this regularly as we strive to increase our cultural competencies. We are having many conversations here with a solid appreciation that this is a messy and complicated subject. We intend to have conversations in a more public way and to use this space to address potential ways toward healing. As we grapple with the issues in the present, we seek expertise in this area. On that note, it is my privilege to introduce you to our Indigenous Liaison.

Tansi...my name is Matotisan Asiniy and I am an Oskapeyo.  Matotisan Asiniy is Nehiyaw for Sweat Lodge Rock which has been given to me for the work I have been doing in ceremonies helping Elders and the people.  My given name is Tyrone Rhyno and I create a safe place for Indigenous people to reclaim their power by holding space for traditional teachings and ceremony.

I was born in Winnipeg and my mother left the province in fear because of all the apprehensions that were occurring with indigenous children. We moved to Alberta where we lived in multiple indigenous communities looking for safety. In my adult life I have reconnected to culture and found my purpose. I strongly believe that we need to create safe places and systems to help children create a healthy identity so they can stand tall with their culture intact and lead healthy adult lives. And as an Indigenous man I feel we need to help our young men by modelling healthy behaviours and wellness. We need to break down barriers for families to connect to culture and support them to heal the wounds of assimilation and genocide.

The impact of colonization runs deep and is complex. Intergenerational trauma is complicated - people need to heal these historical wounds and should have access to education and services that level the playing field. 

In my conversations with Elders, many agree they have lost what it means to become a helper and the many ceremonies and protocols for living a good life filled with culture. Access to ceremony is a great start to healing these intergenerational wounds. We need to take ownership over our own destiny and rewrite the story of our families. I have simply started by building positive relationships with communities and Elders, inviting them to sit together as partners and to be a part of doing something different. And by utilizing modern technology together with ceremony, Indigenous people will have a chance to live a life filled with purpose and direction.

Our hope is to begin strengthening relationships and to have a clear understanding of what reconciliation really means. These are long overdue conversations and we look forward to sharing them here. Stay with us.