Imagine growing up and the government telling you that you have to be white. They don’t give you enough information to be successful, just enough for you to lose who you are and adopt their characteristics.
Imaging growing up and every time you spoke your own language you were shamed and beaten.
Now try growing up to become a functioning person.
Richard Cardinal was a product of the 60’s scoop.
This is a period were aboriginal children were taken away from their families and adopted out into white homes across North America. Many parents have no idea where their children ended up.
By the age of nine Richard Cardinal had already been placed in eleven different care facilities, foster homes and emergency wards.
Richard Cardinal desperately wanted to make it back to his family. He never made it back home as he took his own life at the age of 17.
Although Cardinal resided in Alberta and his suicide took place more than 20 years ago (1984), his story still resonates with the aboriginal community as an example of a “life of neglect.”
I spoke with a Metis student who is currently in her last year of pursuing her Bachelor of social work at the University of Manitoba. Danielle Wedalke told me that a high concentration of the suicide rate in Manitoba is made up of aboriginals. Wedlake explained to me that the aboriginals in residential schools and even those in care had extreme problems with understanding or even having their own identity. They had an internal conflict of self. Some students at residential schools were able to go home on the weekend, or throughout the summer months. The constant back and forth, and the contrast between the back and forth was confusing. Students ended up either hating their parents who made them ‘native’, hated white people for shaming them, or found no other source of solace but to hate themselves.
As I watched the documentary about Richard Cardinal it seemed apparent that this is not a healthy way of life. What did the government expect the outcome of these living conditions to be?
Traditionally aboriginal people are against conflict. It’s not a part of their society. They have such distaste for conflict that most choose to internalize to avoid the cause of any disruption. When you are continually confronted with conflict, such as the situations Cardinal faced on a daily basis, and you are internalizing all of it, where does that path lead you?
Cardinal was taken away from his home at the age of 4. After more than 28 different living placements, physical abuse, mental abuse, starvation, being dismissed as a human due to bed wetting, being asked to retrieve his own stick for his foster parents to beat him with, where did this leave Cardinal?
Broken down, with no one to turn to ...not even being able to self identify.
This is a link to the documentary about Richard Cardinal: http://www.nfb.ca/film/richard_cardinal/