River of Tears: Families Healing From Grief and Loss

The Cause

The history of residential schools has been identified as having long lasting and intergenerational effects on the physical and mental well-being of Indigenous populations in Canada. At the Brenda Strafford Centre more than 30% of the families in residence identify as Indigenous. The risk factors that contribute to higher rates of domestic abuse in Indigenous families are directly linked to the impacts of inter-generational trauma. The revelations of child deaths at Indian Residential Schools have had a profound impact on resident families and have triggered deep issues related to grief and loss. BSC seeks to provide enhanced programming to support families in their emerging need through design and delivery of a new initiative entitled River of Tears: Families Healing from Grief and Loss. The initiative will involve delivery of a twelve week interdisciplinary program that offers a range of healing exercises, workshops, acts of creation, and ceremony to allow families to mourn and build skills for the healthy processing of grief and loss. The program is designed to serve the family as a whole and will include both parent and child in the process.

Currently we see low levels of capacity to cope with grief and loss among resident Indigenous families. In the absence of healthy coping strategies, many clients employ coping mechanisms that have significant adverse impacts on the well-being of both mother and children. These include increased incidence of substance misuse, self harm, emotional neglect and abuse, lowered ability to parent effectively, acting out behaviours, binge spending, and a heightened risk of unsafe choices related to relationships and boundaries. All of these are directly linked to trauma and to the unaddressed issues of grief and loss. Without appropriate intervention and supports we witness the cycle of abuse repeating itself, often resulting in the apprehension of children by Child and Family Services. This further perpetuates the legacy of trauma within Indigenous families.

Who Will it Benefit?

This program will directly impact over 100 Indigenous women and children that call the Centre home every year. This program will provide cascading and long term benefits in the larger community as it will help to create healthier individuals and healthier families. Healthier individuals will be less likely to abuse substances, have involvement with Child and Family Services, homelessness, poverty, and physical and mental health challenges. Healthier individuals will be able to provide a higher standard of care for their children which then creates the next generation of healthier individuals.