Situating Intergenerational Trauma in the Educational Journey

Rainey Gaywsh, Elaine Mordoch


The impact of trauma on learning in post-secondary institutions is largely ignored. However, recent studies on how Aboriginal people experience mental health issues are bringing attention to Aboriginal students’ experiences of intergenerational trauma (IGT). IGT occurs when the maladaptive effects of an original trauma experience, such as historic trauma inclusive of Indian Residential Schools (IRS), results in unhealthy effects on the first generation being passed down to the next generation or multiple generations. Given the lengthy history of collective historic trauma experienced by Aboriginal people, it is reasonable to expect that Aboriginal students’ learning is affected by IGT. As post-secondary educators, we engaged a limited study to further our knowledge of the impact of IGT on Aboriginal students. We were puzzled by Aboriginal students’ attrition within university programs—students we believed who were more than capable of success. We chose to explore this issue from the perspective of trauma-informed education principles (Mordoch & Gaywish, 2011). Building on past work, this qualitative study explores how IGT affects the educational journeys of Aboriginal students. A conceptual framework based on an Anishinabe teaching of Four Lodges (directional)—Talking, Planning, Teaching, and Healing—guided our research. The researchers formulated questions for each Lodge to frame our research on how IGT is understood by students enrolled in select programs for mature Indigenous students. We asked about the effects of IGT in the classroom and the resultant problems students face in their educational journey. Sixteen Indigenous students, 10 instructors, and nine administrators employed in Aboriginal focus or access programs for at least three years participated in semi-structured interview conversations. Findings reflect their perceptions of the interplay between IGT and educational experiences and potential strategies to redress resultant issues.

            Keywords: intergenerational trauma; post-secondary education; trauma-informed education


intergenerational trauma; post-secondary education;trauma-informed education

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