Hidden Legacy Conference Highlights

This past week I attended the Hidden Legacy Conference in Winnipeg. The conference featured an interesting combination of speakers and highlighted a variety of view points relating to trauma and inter-generational impacts.

The first day of the conference included eight main speakers and a panel discussion. The first keynote speaker of the day was Dr. Gabor Maté. I found Maté to be one of the most interesting speakers of the entire conference. His talk on the “biology of loss” focused on the physiological and psychological impacts of trauma, the biology of addiction, and the impact of parental health on children. Maté argued that First Nation people are not more genetically predisposed to alcoholism, drug use, depression, and addiction in general. Rather, addiction is a symptom of a much larger societal problem and a result of continuous trauma. Maté also emphasized the importance of early childhood experiences in shaping healthy or unhealthy lifestyles and the need to look at the interconnected nature of mental and physical health.

Juxtaposed with Maté’s presentation was Eduardo Duran‘s discussion of the soul wound. Duran’s work includes a much more spiritual component than the work of Maté. Duran emphasized the idea that trauma is a spiritual entity. He asserted that trauma has an energy, and it is that negative energy which plagues the victims of abuse and violence. Despite having different definitions of trauma both Duran and Maté argued for the need to treat inter-generational trauma in a holistic way.

In addition to the more psychological discussions of trauma there was a number of interesting speakers who discussed their first hand experiences with coping with trauma. Vern White, Chief of Police Ottawa, provided an interesting perspective on Northern Native communities. White focused on the general population’s lack of awareness of the welfare of First Nation people. White emphasized the need for engagement of both parties during reconciliation and the interconnected nature of our society. A hurdle as large as racism and trauma can’t be overcome unless everyone works together.

Similar to White, a workshop run by Ruth and Greg Murdock focused on the personal experience and societal impacts of trauma. This workshop emphasized the impacts of lateral violence, vicarious trauma, and techniques for overcoming hurt.

Overall, the conference featured a great number of informed presenters and highlighted a number of important issues that have arose from the legacy of the residential schools. Many of the presentations did not focus directly on the residential schools. Rather, they spoke to the societal problems which have developed out of seven generations of Native people being impacted by the residential school system.