I recently spoke about Video Gaming Addiction at the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians Wellness Conference in Niagara Falls. My son, who is now sixteen months into recovery of this disorder spoke, as well. We were both honoured to be asked and trusted to present to this community. I was surprised to learn, beforehand, that this would be the first time that gaming addiction would be addressed with this First Nations group, and I was not prepared for the response we received.
Between my son and I, we spoke for fifty minutes, and then answered questions. During this entire time, I noticed one Indigenous woman crying, as she listened. And as we shared our personal story, most of the front-line workers in attendance were heads down and writing as fast as they could. It was almost like they couldn’t record the information fast enough. I felt a desperation in their action. During the Q & A period, we were asked for more details from many. We also heard from parents in the room. The same woman who had been crying told us how much she was moved by our story. She acknowledged that their community lacked funding and were understaffed, but there were some services that were provided for their youth. And she was astounded by the fact that screening and treatment for Video Gaming Disorder was not even on the list. I now understood her tears. As a mother, she had great concerns and was shocked that she was only hearing about this addiction now. Her question was about how to get the resources that were greatly needed. A father in the group told us that, after hearing our story, he recognized this as an issue in his own home. He asked us how to start a conversation with his sons so that he could begin to do the work, himself, and create healthier screen and technology habits. I could hear the helplessness in his voice and felt privileged to be able to provide him some first steps to take. We were asked by more than one individual in the room if we could speak in their schools next. They were hungry for information. They wanted to address this issue with care and concern. I could feel it. They were grateful that we shared our lived experience. They thanked us, and many hugged us afterwards. We walked away feeling humbled and immensely sad.
You see, the Indigenous people of Canada have been hurting and working towards healing for a long time. Our government made several decisions, not with the intent to hurt (for the most part), but, unfortunately, due to lack of foresight, these decisions have resulted in some devastating trauma for the First Nations people. And shockingly, we have become a society that has allowed much of it. Our values and priorities are still not directed enough towards Indigenous reconciliation. And as a result, this is now a community that has a higher risk factor for addiction. Many suffer with isolation, anxiety, and depression. There is a higher than normal rate of alcoholism and of suicide with their young men. Funding and staffing for Video Gaming Disorder needs to be a priority for their community. And yet, it isn’t. Out of sight, out of mind makes it far too easy for us to forget this. But all around you, these beautiful people are living in reserves. And they need us to pay attention. They need community healing, not just within their own Indigenous community; it must come from non- Indigenous communities, too. They deserve this, and we owe it to them as human beings.
First, our government took Native land. And later our government made an amendment to the Indian Act, requiring attendance in school be compulsory. The resulting damage was not intentional. This was done with very little precognition, insight, understanding, planning, and compassion. Against their will, Indigenous parents had to relinquish their children to police and watch them be taken away to residential and industrial schools far away from their reservations. They were left not knowing when they might see their children again. These students faced abuse, including sexual and physical assault, malnutrition, and inadequate medical care while attending these schools. They were forced to give up their Indigenous culture and language and were kept away from the love and support of their families. This created lasting shock and suffering for many, with few mechanisms put into place for healing. Without these survivors having the opportunity to address their pain-filled issues, for many, their behaviour became destructive. This became normalized within their family homes and their community, and it has resulted in inter generational trauma. It has had a lasting effect through each new generation. Imagine if this happened to your family.
During the 1960’s most of these schools were closed by the government, and in 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a public apology on behalf of the Government of Canada. But there has been no reconciliation that has restored or repaired or made good again, to achieve settlement with the Indigenous people.
I knew this before I agreed to speak. I felt a sense of guilt and remorse, even though I was only just born in 1961, as these schools were closing. I still felt a sense of duty and a social obligation to do something, but I didn’t know what that should look like. My son and I spoke for hours after our presentation was done, both of us feeling heaviness in our hearts. After leaving the wellness conference, I felt the need to reach out to the organizer of this forum and ask her what it is that the First Nations people need from us to heal. I told her I would write a blog on their behalf. This was her reply:
“We need allies that can talk to their peers on the injustice that has occurred and move towards real reconciliation. That change must happen on an individual level, at home and teaching their children. I think that one of the most important things that people can do is learn the real history and really understand the genocide that has been inflicted on First Nations since 1492 (loss of land, assimilation, reserves, residential schools, 1969 White paper, Indian act, child welfare, the 60’s scoop, murdered and missing Indigenous women, loss of culture, loss of language, loss of identity, inter generational trauma, racism, etc.). This hasn’t just happened. It’s been happening for over 500 years. One only has to read the paper or online articles and see the deep-seated racism is alive and well when it comes to First Nations. It isn’t something we are born with, it is a learned behavior.”
This is a sobering reality. It is time to remove the veil we hide behind. Community healing is important for all of us, but it is essential for the First Nations people.
So, although my blogs are usually about information, research, and tips on Video Gaming Disorder, I ask that you take some time to do some homework in History and Social Justice, or in this case Injustice. Google, borrow books from the library, talk to others, and learn. Write to your government. Look for First Nations communities near you. Community begins with every one of us through volunteering, donating, being kind, understanding, and compassionate. Your part can be as simple as saying “hello”, treating the Indigenous people as our brothers and sisters, showing respect. Do not judge them because they don’t fit into what our perception of who and what they should be. Help them to be better, just like we all want to be, in one way or another.
Addressing Video Gaming Addiction with AIAI was a first step in helping them learn about this disorder, but there needs to be so much more support and resource provided for the many mental health conditions and trauma amongst our wonderful Indigenous people. I am taking the first step by writing this blog and appealing to your sense of humanity.