RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL ABUSE AT THE ROOT OF MANY PROBLEMS
by HC Miller, Alberta Native News, November 2004
Life Works Counselling and Training Services Inc. offers a variety of different workshops to help their Aboriginal clients deal with many of life’s problems, and one common reason for those difficulties keeps surfacing. “The residential school experience is the dysfunction in which many families live today,” explains Elaine Woodward, Executive Director. “In the services that we provide a lot of our counselling is around the trauma of the residential school abuse, and that carries right into family violence issues,” she says. “Often entire communities have concerns around abuse, so we’re not just working with individuals or even families.”
With offices in Yellowknife and Millarville, which is a 25-minute drive southwest of Calgary, counsellors travel to clients on a regular basis. “They may be in a community once every four or five weeks, especially in the northern settlements which are more remote, with counsellors flying in. Or they may be able to attend more often,” she adds. “It all depends on availability of our trainers and counsellors. We already have bookings extending well into the winter.”
Counsellors work with individuals and families to heal the abuse, within their community, once their leaders have engaged the services of Life Works. “Part of the healing process is bringing us in, and then doing as much as they can on their own as well,” she says. “Everyone wants this common goal of healthy lifestyles for healthy families, and together they are working to achieve it.” The answers to the problems lie within the people themselves, and Life Works facilitates the process, she adds. “They know what they want but don’t always know how to bring themselves to the solution, so we help with getting the answers out into the open so they can work on them. We use different techniques and approaches in order to find those answers. We often find people saying they have carried grief or unhappiness throughout their entire lives, maybe forty years or more, and finally, they are releasing it and beginning to heal.”
Traditional healers and Elders are a welcome addition to the training team as well. “They do traditional ceremonies and travel willingly to communities,” says Woodward.
Woodward is a Métis, originally from Anzac, Alberta. “I lived in the Northwest Territories for over 30 years, and my husband and I established our business there in 1994 before expanding southward.”
No matter where they conduct workshops, they find the same problems are often at the root of the dysfunction, but the willingness and ability to heal themselves are also common to all participants, she says.
Life Works has numerous other workshops which they deliver as well, including: workplace services, stress management, healing with music, dealing with grief and loss, strategic planning, suicide prevention and teambuilding. Well known names amongst Life Works facilitators include George Tuccaro, Lea Bill, Rita Chretien and Terry Garchinski. Most counsellors and facilitators are of Aboriginal descent and the business is Aboriginal-majority owned. All are highly qualified.
“We hope eventually to provide a full range of services through northern and western Canada,” adds Woodward.
With November being the month that Albertans focus on the issues surrounding family violence, she urges everyone who needs help to reach out and begin the path to healing. “No matter where you are coming from, you can reach a respectful and happy lifestyle, full of dignity and love, and fulfilling relationships,” she says. “But you have to take the first step yourself.”