Supporting community healing from residential school trauma - United Way Alberta Capital Region

Supporting community healing from residential school trauma

September 10, 2021


*Please note, the topics being discussed may trigger a psychological or emotional response for some who have experienced trauma in the residential school system. Support is available 24/7 by calling or texting 211 Alberta.

Significance of September 30
Achieving Truth and Reconciliation can seem like a massive task. With 94 calls to action mostly directed at governments, it’s easy to think that individuals can’t make a difference. But we can.

September 30 has been designated as The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in order to honour First Nations, Métis and Inuit children who were legally kidnapped from their families across these lands.

The recent discoveries of unmarked graves at residential schools across Canada have brought the horrifying truths of what happened at these schools to light. To date the identities of 4,117 children have been confirmed.

As elder Kathy explains, “If they hadn’t corralled our people to the reservations, they would not have had easy access to our kids when they did.”

Every Child Matters text within an orange heart with feathers
These truths do not just live in the past. The ongoing effects of colonialism, intergenerational trauma, and cultural genocide at residential schools as well as ongoing systemic racism can clearly be seen in many communities today.

First Nations, Métis and Inuit people make up only six per cent of Edmonton’s population, yet make up two-thirds of those experiencing homelessness. Amongst those are young people who have aged out of foster and other care systems.

The rates of drug and alcohol addiction, suicide and children in care in this population are amongst the highest in Canada. The First Nations, Métis, and Inuit population is one of the highest reported primary groups that local United Way funded partners serve.

“Our hearts are forever broken,” explains elder Kathy.

These are the harsh truths about our community today, but the good news is there are actions that we can all take to support community healing.

Supporting Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action

Attend an online course such as the Indigenous Canada course through the University of Alberta and read the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action. Explore the Indigenous resources from Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, a funded partner of United Way. 


Understand individual experiences shared by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples by visiting the Edmonton Public Library’s Voices of Amiskwaciy. And listen to the stories of Indigenous community members like Vanessa and Mary. 

Raise Awareness

We can equally use our voice to keep the conversation going, amplifying First Nations, Métis, and Inuit voices on social media and participating in #OrangeShirtDay on September 30 to honour the survivors and families impacted by the residential school system.


Connect to local First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities by supporting events such as a Powwow or participating at  Explore Edmonton’s Indigenous Experiences List. Participate in sharing circles, talking circles and conversations with elders in communities. 

United Way Actions
Here at United Way, we are also taking action. In alignment with our core value of applying a lens of equity and inclusion in our work, we have made September 30 a statutory holiday to provide staff with a day for reflection and learning to demonstrate our commitment to honouring the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to actions.

211 Alberta, an initiative of United Way, recently staffed the position of Portfolio Lead, Indigenous Relations to the team. Lisa Richards, BA, nehiyaw iskwew is working with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities across Treaty Six, Treaty Seven, and Treaty Eight. Her work to build up 211’s database of culturally safe and informed resources will ensure 211 continues growing as a trusted resource for all.

“My new role is so important, there is much suffering in the community and 211 is such an integral resource. I believe in 211 it is a lifeline for many people,” shares Lisa.

The Community Mental Health Action Plan, a collaborative of partners including United Way, is working with the Imagine Institute for Learning to add an Indigenous lens to their training on trauma-informed care. This training will help service providers, including United Way funded partners, better understand the impact and rate of trauma. A brand-new training about the wisdom of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities will be created for all Albertans.

“It is important to understand that there is a lot of intergenerational wisdom and resilience in Indigenous communities, not just trauma,” explains Angelica Boucher of the Imagine Institute for Learning. “Many in the Indigenous community have fought to overcome messages from residential schools that did not validate their ways of knowing.”

Also, United Way’s Leading Inclusively Team (LIT) is working to increase equity, diversity, and inclusion in our organization through policies and education. As part of these efforts, we partnered with Naheyawin to provide staff training on land acknowledgements.

A presentation slide from Naheyawin.
Hunter Cardinal led the session along with his sister, Jacquelyn. He shares that the vision for their work goes beyond simply acknowledging the past.

“By connecting to a larger story, we can be a community that shows up for each other when times get tough because we understand how we are connected.”

He also wants to help people know that their actions matter. “We have opportunities as individuals to take small actions that move the needle. Those actions can create intergenerational change.”

These are just some of the steps we are taking to support the long journey toward Truth and Reconciliation in our community. We have a long way to go, but United Way is committed to continuing to learn and grow with our neighbours. Together, we can create a community where everyone has the chance to thrive.

*This story was written collaboratively by Lisa Richards of 211 Alberta and Beth Strom of United Way of the Alberta Capital Region.