Imagine this scenario: A middle-aged Indigenous woman named Julie walks into a store to apply for a service job, one for which she knows she has little experience. Julie’s career counsellor, Debra, worked in a trauma-informed way to help Julie prepare for her job search. Debra affirmed Julie’s experience of intergenerational trauma and used specific strategies to coach Julie on the necessary steps to apply for a job along with strategies to deal with Julie’s anxieties about the process. And still …
Julie has tried desperately to put together an outfit from the Salvation Army thrift store with the little money she has and one that hopefully doesn’t announce her poverty. As she walks up to the counter to introduce herself, she notices the clerk’s quick once-over scan. Trying hard not to feel afraid, she bravely stretches out her hand to introduce herself. As she does this, the clerk looks down at the tattoos on her outstretched hand and looks up at the brown face looking back at her. Julie’s heart sinks. “I know that look,” she thinks. Julie tries hard not to look down and forces her eyes to meet the clerk’s less-than-friendly face. Julie sees the flash of judgment cross the clerk’s face as Julie tells her that she’s looking for a job, and do they have any openings?
What the clerk cannot see as Julie fumbles to pass her resume across the counter is the lifetime of racism and rejections. The clerk cannot see the intergenerational trauma related to being an Indigenous person that Julie carried into the store with her.
Julie’s story is endemic for many Indigenous jobseekers and the tools Debra needs to effectively assist Julie in her job search are unique to working with individuals who are experiencing intergenerational trauma.
A history of racism and trauma
Intergeneration trauma, defined as “a cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over the lifespan and across generations, emanating from massive group trauma,” affects many Indigenous people in Canada due to our legacy of colonialism, cultural genocide and racism. However, intergenerational trauma also affects those who have experienced multiple generations of poverty and the children of survivors of other genocides.
Biases and prejudices permeate our Canadian culture, reinforcing the negative effects of intergenerational trauma. A major impact of intergenerational trauma experienced by Indigenous peoples in Canada is that it has taken generations out of the labour force and has taught the children of those generations that they do not have a rightful place in educational institutions and the labour force of today. In Canada, we need to shift the focus on employment from simply being a means to an end to a right and a responsibility of all people to participate in the economic life of their communities.
It is only in recent years that the Canadian public has taken the opportunity to learn about the real history of Indigenous people and the colonial realities that have shaped the social fabric of Indigenous communities. The national inquiry into the Indian Residential School legacy and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and Calls to Action have resulted in new discussions about what it will take for healing to occur in order to work toward a stronger and healthier future for Indigenous people. It has also led to deeper discussion and research on the impacts of trauma and the impacts of intergenerational trauma.
One of the Calls to Action asks Canadians to have deeper discussions about systemic racism that continue to permeate the social systems in Canada. This is a recommendation that career professionals can address, given the negative influences of racism and intergenerational trauma on individual career development. Scholars, community leaders and front-line workers need to look for effective ways to address the social implications of conscious and unconscious racism and white privilege.
A collective responsibility
A career practitioner whom we were speaking to about our upcoming webinar series on Intergenerational Trauma responded, “I don’t work with Indigenous clients, so I don’t think is relevant to me.” That statement reflects the invisibility of intergenerational trauma, an issue we aim to address in the webinar. All Canadians, and certainly all CDPs, need to understand the legacy of genocide in Canada that is ongoing and that it continues to have significant impacts on a large group of jobseekers and their sense of opportunity in the labour force.
Working with clients in a trauma-informed way includes understanding the sources of their trauma(s) and finding ways to build on the strengths and capacities that each individual brings to the labour force. We are missing the talent of many generations of Indigenous jobseekers. It’s time for CDPs to learn new tools to more effectively assist these jobseekers into the labour force.
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