Posted: November 7th, 2023
Q.3 Unique Challenges Indigenous Families Faced in Canada
Indigenous Canadian families continue to struggle with poor education, poverty and impeded access to healthcare. A significant chunk of these social issues began with the introduction of the residential school system. For over a century, the law mandated Indigenous Canadian children to attend residential schools managed by various denominations of the Christian faith. The education system was part of a more extensive program meant to integrate the aboriginal communities into the dominant western culture. Tim Wolochatiuk’s documentary, “We Were Children”, explores the life stories of Glen Anaquod and Lyna Hart, young children taken from their native home and enrolled in the government-funded camps. The first-hand perspective captures the terror how Indigenous families have a history of family separation and cultural breakdowns. Even though the history of Aboriginal families in Canada is not well documented, Wolochatiuk’s film depicts long-running family struggles characterized by parents who lost their children and children who were robbed of their language, culture and humanity.
First Nation families suffer from broken generational relationships. The Indian Act separated children from their parents, literally stripping off their childhood years. As per the film, the directors sympathize as children are taken away from their families at a tender age. One of the narrators, Lyna Hart, was enrolled in Manitoba Residential School at only four years of age (Wolochatiuk, 2012). Lyna’s mother is portrayed breaking down, holding her husband’s hands, and crying while watching a government vehicle slowly take her child away. The law for Indigenous families was designed so that separation was inevitable. For example, Glen’s relative calls the residential school after hearing he has escaped, only to confirm that he is not with them (Wolochatiuk, 2012). Glen’s relative is so afraid of being taken to jail for harbouring the Indigenous child that family separation seems a more feasible option. It is a national tragedy how many Indigenous families were separated and broken under the pretence that the children were receiving a good formal education.
Indigenous Canadian youth are struggling with years of silence and internal emotional turmoil. Aboriginal children were systematically taught to remain silent, not voice concerns or attempt to deviate from established social norms. One common feature of the residential schools, as narrated by Glen and Lyna, was the use of corporal punishment. Glen narrated an occasion when a priest locked him inside a small, private room for nearly two weeks (Wolochatiuk, 2012). The child could hear the priest abuse other children in a nearby room. Starvation was a common punishment approach in the schools. Glen even witnesses a scene where the prise is raping young boys. However, the same priest never faced any legal ramifications. After being caught, he was simply transferred to another school (Wolochatiuk, 2012). The experiences taught the young Indigenous children never to voice their opinions. Many of the children, now adults, struggle with identity issues due to years of psychologically avoiding conflict.
Indigenous families are facing a potential loss of culture and way of life due to the impacts of the residential school system and globalization. A big chunk of Indigenous compensation entails attempts to preserve and continue native cultures. In her review of present native families, Vanessa Watts claims residential schools contributed to the cultural identity issue that Aboriginal youth are facing (Albanese, 2018). Similarly, “We Were Children” highlights how Inuit and Merit children were forced to learn and use English or French. Lyna narrates how educators frequently referred to the two dialects as ‘God’s language’ (Wolochatiuk, 2012). Forced assimilation in the residential school also focused on the children’s mannerisms, including how they ate, groomed and behaved in social circles. The struggle to balance the Indigenous cultural identity and what was being taught contributes to the high suicide rate among residential school survivors (Albanese, 2018). Lyna and Glen talk about feeling shame and sorrow for not knowing specific native values and traditions as adults. The residential schools robbed them of crucial learning opportunities from their grandparents and great grandparents. The immediate result is a loss of the Indigenous communities’ cultural way of life.
An interplay between a lack of cultural continuity and childhood trauma robs Indigenous families of their youth. Aboriginal families are recording a higher suicide incidence rate than other Canadian communities. As per the documentary, the viewer learns that Glen Anaquod died in mid-year 2011 after the initial recording of the film (Wolochatiuk, 2012). The narrator’s voice had been silenced by fear and force for years. The terror, loss and torture discouraged Glen from continuing with his life. Research confirms that First Nation families have a higher rate of suicide compared to non-Aboriginal families (Wolochatiuk, 2012). The pain experienced in the residential schools is still too much for certain people to bear. There have been minimal efforts or opportunities to discuss the buried memories until recently. The higher suicide rates indicate that silence was the colonizer’s major strength. One by one, survivors who fail to find their voice end up being broken (Wolochatiuk, 2012). The tragedy calls for more opportunities that create public awareness through telling the truth. Society fails to guarantee the horror does not repeat without openly discussing the past.
The challenges facing Indigenous families in Canada are complex and deeply rooted in history. Director Tim Wolochatiuk incorporates the testimonies of two survivors to accurately portray the conditions in the residential school system. Indigenous parents had to suffer early separation from their children. On the other hand, the young children were taken to a land they did not know and forced to learn a language that was not theirs. Years of terror and torture traumatized the young children into adulthood, manifesting in higher rates of suicide and self-injury. It is a crime that many Canadians do not know what Aboriginal families went through. Openly discussing the experiences should be a crucial part of the healing journey. Wolochatiuk’s documentary should inspire more survivors into talking about their experiences for more positive dialogue. “We Were Children” should be a key lesson for policymakers, specifically on the implications of suppressing or erasing cultural identities.
Q.4 Differences between Paid and Unpaid Labour
Most adults spend their best years working a job meant to maintain and run their households. Several factors interplay to determine the amount of paid and unpaid work in a home. In recent years, the increased labour participation of women has led to significant changes in the economic structure of the average family. Since the mid-70s, there has been a substantial migration of women from unpaid to paid labour. The transformations have led to a decline in families where the adult male is the sole earner. While this marks a positive step, it still does not erase the influence of gender in accessing opportunities for paid and unpaid labour. A historical analysis of Canada’s economic development highlights strong gender divisions in paid and unpaid work. While women become more integrated into financial markets, paid and unpaid labour will grow into a more critical study area, helping society answer the broader social issue of gender divisions in work.
Developments in the labour market highlight persistent gender divisions in paid work. As per the class textbook, paid work refers to the standard employment relationship where an employee has full-time employment with the same employer for a fixed salary and wage (Albanese, 2018). Chapter 9 frequently applies the word ‘male-labour’ to refer to paid work because the continuous employment is often available to men only. Secondly, the monetary compensation given to men for paid work is very different from that given to women, making the market male-dominated. When it comes to paid labour, the dominant pattern for women is temporary contractual employment (part-time) (Albanese, 2018). Despite the sharp increase in the number of women in the employed workforce, women with children are significantly less likely to secure paid work than women without children. The biased and systemic differences have encouraged the emergence of non-standard employment.
An assessment of the paid labour market outlines that women are attracted to part-time and non-standard employment over full-time work due to household commitments. Non-standard employment is a post Second World War development that leverages the entry of women into the labour market (Albanese, 2018). The form of paid work offers temporary employment for casual and seasoned roles. The non-standard employment market has nearly doubled in the last two decades due to improved social access to public benefits and statutory rights, such as maternity leave and employee health insurance (Albanese, 2018). The growth in non-standard employment in paid labour reflects income inequalities suffered by women and members of minority groups. A study on the emerging market would provide crucial information on the experienced differences in men’s and women’s paid labour. The findings would suggest gender labour divisions continue to evolve, reducing the pay gap.
The definitions and meanings of unpaid work are complex and vary dependent on the contextual application. According to the class textbook, the consensus among sociologists is unpaid work describes the production of goods and services for in-household consumption without selling in the external market (Albanese, 2018). It is widely accepted that women in Canada and most economies perform the bulk of unpaid labour. The types of roles in the informal labour market are socially, culturally and politically devalued because measures and outcomes are not linked to the formal market (Albanese, 2018). Common examples include housework and childcare. The overwhelming majority of men are not actively involved in raising children despite ongoing changes in fatherhood practices. Such a change in Canada is reflected by men taking up more parental leave to assist with post-birth responsibilities. Despite the positive sociocultural changes, men are not adequately present in the unpaid market to facilitate women’s migration to the formal paid labour market.
Unpaid labour for many women is a full-time undertaking, whereas it is a non-standard responsibility for men. A study on Canadian gender divisions shows that even though men are starting to appreciate the importance of work-life balance, most household and community work falls on women. Ginger Gentle (2020) strongly associates the gender work division in unpaid labour with the high divorce rate in North America. Women from minority households are increasingly walking away from their marriages to reduce the amount of unpaid work they perform to reinvest in paid labour. The trend is another reason that explains how gender work divisions in the unpaid market are forcing changes to the definition of fathers and fatherhood. The result is more and more men establishing lives characterized by a combination of paid and unpaid work (Gentle, 2020). Positive developments in the unpaid labour market must coincide with the reconceptualization of father involvement in house and community work.
The contemporary household has a significantly different understanding of paid and unpaid labour. In the past, gender was the primary difference between the two labour markets. Men mainly comprised paid labour due to increased access to full-time employment. Household work and child care often restricted women to part-time, non-standard employment and unpaid work. Cultural changes, specifically changing family norms and ideologies, encourage increased father engagement in household responsibilities. Families continue to evolve, enhancing women’s entry into the paid labour market, which improves household income and reduces the gender wage gap. It will be difficult to predict Canada’s labour market in a few years with the decrease in average family size and number of heterosexual marriages. Irrespective, gender might not be the main differentiating factor in paid and unpaid labour in the coming years.
Albanese, P. (2018). Canadian families today: New perspectives. Oxford University Press.
Documentary Central. (2020, February 13). Erasing family. YouTube. Directed by Ginger Gentle, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLCsbtS9dUA
Wolochatiuk, T. (2012). We Were Children . CBC. https://gem.cbc.ca/media/we-were-children/s175
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