Sharon Shorty, right, with her mother Winnie Peterson. Shorty deals with the impacts of intergenerational trauma because her mother and other family members attended residential schools in Yukon, Alberta and British Columbia. (Submitted by Sharon Shorty) This story is part of CBC North’s series Children of Survivors | Impact of residential schools. This week we’re highlighting the stories of several children of residential school survivors and the effect intergenerational trauma has had on their lives.
My name is Sharon Shorty and I am from Whitehorse. I am the child of residential school survivors.
The impact of residential school is intergenerational, and I am in the first generation to feel the effects of this trauma. My parents, aunts and uncles, and one brother attended residential schools in the Yukon, British Columbia and Alberta.
My mother Winnie Peterson is a Tlingit woman. She lost access to stories, her language, traditional beliefs and practices like sewing because of residential school.
Black and white pictures of my mother, late father, and her sisters at Yukon’s Baptist Mission School in a book called Finding Our Faces , which acknowledges the survivors and what they endured: separation from family, bullying from other students, and loss of their culture. A photo of residential school students on the cover of the book Finding Our Faces. (Submitted by Sharon Shorty) In the book, she shares: "I wasn’t quite six years old and, 64 years later, I am finally starting to deal with the issues."
I see this as the start of my story.
When I was in Grade 4 she left me with her sisters (my aunties) to flee to B.C. from an abusive relationship with my father. It was a traditional practice to leave me with my aunties, and I thank God she did it and for their support.
Before that, life at home was confusing. I felt alone and lonesome growing up. I didn’t understand where my dad’s anger and hurtful words toward me came from. My dad, the late Joe Shorty, was angry a lot and it was scary.
My mom was sad a lot. I felt alone and lonesome growing up. I didn’t understand where my dad’s anger and hurtful words toward me came from.
I also liked to go to church as a child and my dad would mock me for it. There was very little affection in the home. I did not know that since my parents didn’t grow up with their families, they didn’t learn parenting skills.
Years later as a new mother, I struggled with being affectionate to my son. I felt that part of the syndrome can be beaten though, and I learned to show my feelings. But it takes a lot of strength. Healing through humour
As a storyteller, playwright and comic, I have turned to humour for 20 years. Winnie Peterson, Sharon Shorty’s mother, in residential school. This photo is in the book Finding Our Faces. (Submitted by Sharon Shorty) During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, Chief Justice Murray Sinclair asked me and my performing partner to do our comedy act, Gramma Susie and Charlie , at several national events.
He said survivors would need laughter during the difficult hearings.
In the routine, we dress as elders and share stories of life. I had discovered that recalling the wisdom and humour of our grandparents and aunties could be a way to reconnect the older and younger generations. It’s also a restorative and healing experience.
It was a privilege to be able to connect with survivors and listen to their stories. I was even more honoured to make people laugh, so they could heal a little more.
It was challenging […]
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