A southern Alberta woman is speaking out in the hopes her tragic story will help other survivors of residential schools.
Gabriella Many Shots attended the Old Sun Residential School on the Siksika Nation in the late 1960s. The neglect she suffered there haunts her.
“There were a lot of words to describe us. The ones that I always heard were: ‘You are ugly. You are stupid and you will never amount to anything.’” Many Shots said.
Many Shots is the third generation of her family to endure residential schools.
She says it’s that trauma that lead to her mother’s death from alcohol abuse when she was only 14. That’s when Many Shots also turned to drinking.
“I used alcohol to suppress the loneliness because I was really lonely for my mom. I needed my mom. I was only 14 years old.”
When her son Zennon was born, Many Shots said she wasn’t attached him. Years of learned behaviour from the residential schools left her with poor parenting skills, she explained.
She credits her mother-in-law for helping raise her son.
“I was dealing with neglect and he was dealing with that too,” Many Shots said.
But for the past 26 years, both Many Shots and her husband have been sober. She also graduated with her Masters degree in clinical social work.
Many Shots credits her recovery to turning to Elders and nature and her desire to be a better mom to her daughters.
“I really wanted to be a better parent, a better mom.
“Sometimes I think my degree was my mom because it taught me so much about raising children,” Many Shots said.
Leanne Sleigh is the coordinator with the Indian Residential Schools Health Support Program at the Siksika Health and Wellness Centre.
She says from her experience with clients, the number one component to recovering from intergenerational trauma is embracing traditional Blackfoot culture.
“It really brings life back to them when they connect with their culture,” Sleigh said.
“It is who we are. It’s our identity. That’s what we were born as.
“And that’s something that was, with the whole Indian residential school era, that’s what they tried to beat out of us. But they didn’t take that away. It still exist for us today,” Sleigh said.
In 2010, when Many Shots was returning home from university graduation in Montana, she got the news Zennon passed away from an opioid overdose. The former champion steer rider was just 29 years old.
“Part of the excitement of graduating and coming home was to reconnect with my son and letting him know, ‘Mom doesn’t hate you. Mom just didn’t know.’”
Many Shots said her biggest regret was that she never got a chance to explain to her son about why she neglected him. To this day, she asks for his forgiveness.
“I talk to him in the morning like he’s around and ask him to forgive me and I asked Creator to forgive me too with my negative parenting skills and that I wasn’t there for my son emotionally.”
She holds out hope for her grandkids’ generation — that if raised by positive role models in an environment full of attention and affection, it will end the cycle of suffering that started with the residential schools.
Sleigh said recovery is a slow process but adds that it’s positive that more people are acknowledging the effects of intergenerational trauma.
“They say it takes seven generations to heal.
“In our community, we are… going onto our fourth generation and we still have a lot more work to do,” Sleigh said.
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