The remainder and perhaps the most emphasized of the etiology section will focus on colonization theory. This paper stresses the importance of this theory as it tends to take a more holistic approach to the family violence experienced within Aboriginal communities. Colonization theory examines the historical context in relation to Aboriginal family violence and how it has impacted the individual, the family, and the community. Colonization theory, often labeled and grouped together with other theories of oppression, is seen as one of the leading theories when looking at family violence among Aboriginal communities (Alaggia and Vine 2006). This theory states that due to traumatic historical events, oppression has been internalized among the population and passed on from one generation to the next (Alaggia and Vine 2006).
Within an Aboriginal context, colonization theory would propose that violence occurs due to the effects of colonialism and generations of structural oppression. Western society ultimately brands this population as problematic and dismisses their issues as pathological when in reality it is intertwined with historical complexity (Alaggia and Vine 2006). The oppression experienced by Aboriginals has been internalized throughout the years and now manifests within their thoughts, beliefs, feelings, behaviors, and relationships (Puchala et al. 2010). The historical trauma and experiences are then passed on from one generation to the next and, thus, perpetuates the cycle of intergenerational trauma (Brownridge 2009).
Colonization theory would posit that on an individualistic level, the historical trauma has stripped the Aboriginal person of their identity, culture, and traditional roots (McKenzie and Morrissette 2003). This has led to a variety of harmful coping strategies, including drugs, alcohol, and abuse (McKenzie and Morrissette 2003). The Aboriginal person has come to internalize the oppression he/she has faced as an individual and as a member of the Aboriginal group (McKenzie and Morrissette 2003). In addition, the Aboriginal woman once seen as a strong matriarchial figure within the Aboriginal community is now demeaned and isolated to the role, imposed by colonialism, the “drunken squaw” (LaRocque 1994; Anderson 2001).
As explained through social learning theory, the role of the family has also drastically changed as a result of colonization. Many children raised in residential schools and foster homes, robbed of tradition and love, grew up to model the same relationships they experienced. Bopp et al. (2003) provide six ways in which families are impacted through family violence. As Aboriginal families are better represented as an interconnected system, comprised of siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, and cousins, the likelihood that family violence is occurring will soon be known to multiple members (Bopp et al. 2003).
Second, the response to family violence from varying members of the family will be dependent on their own personal experiences with abuse (Bopp et al. 2003). If the family is united and has been able to resolve some of the trauma it has endured, then support and intervention is more likely to be helpful and sympathetic (Bopp et al. 2003). On the other hand, if the family (immediate and extended) environment is toxic with unaddressed trauma, a history or current patterns of abuse, and weak familial bonds, there is a greater chance that support will be denied (Bopp et al. 2003). In these situations, family members may place blame on the abused individual, convince them to stay quiet, or refuse to acknowledge the family violence all together (Bopp et al. 2003).
Fifth, abuse within one household can easily disseminate into the household of another family (Bopp et al. 2003). Bopp et al. state examples of this occurrence when female family members attempt to protect the victim but are then victimized for speaking against loyalties held by their partners to the abuser. Finally, family violence impacts children within the family (Bopp et al. 2003). As already noted, children who are exposed to family violence are at greater risk of becoming abusive in the future. The child who grows up continuously exposed to violence may soon become the teenager who abuses and assaults their cousins, nephews, nieces, and younger siblings (Bopp et al. 2003). Given the ways family violence can spread, it becomes easier to recognize and coincide with the comparison of family violence to cancer of Bopp et al. Both are aggressive, progressive, and deadly and if not confronted and addressed swiftly the likelihood of it being stopped decreases (Bopp et al. 2003).
Lastly, the role of colonization on the Aboriginal community is not difficult to bear witness to. Aboriginal people are overrepresented in the welfare systems and the in the criminal justice system (McKenzie and Morrissette 2003). The unemployment rates of Aboriginal peoples as compared to their non-Aboriginal counterparts are three times higher, and on some reserves, 90 % of the residents are unemployed (McKenzie and Morrissette 2003). In conjunction, the stress of unemployment has been theorized to impact a male’s sense of masculinity and their ability to provide for the family leading to outbursts of violence (Todd and Lundy 2006). In addition, Aboriginal populations are also more inclined to have lower levels of education and are overall younger than other populations in Canada (Brownridge 2009; Todd and Lundy 2006).
Colonization theory in essence incorporates key aspects of many individual theories to family violence as well as social learning. It hypothesizes the historical trauma is passed on throughout generations, spreading isolation, sadness, anger, hopelessness, pain, and internalized oppression (Menzies 2007). The impacts of trauma affect the individual (i.e., low self-esteem, lack of a sense of belonging, feelings of abandonment), the family (i.e., family violence, lack of bonding between family members, perpetuation of negative stereotypes by caregivers), and the community (i.e., a high prevalence of substance abuse among community members, lack of cultural opportunities and traditions, internalized oppression from one group member to another) (Menzies 2007; Mullaly 2010).
It is noteworthy that Brownridge (2003, 2009) addresses two weaknesses in colonization theory. The first is that the theory is only applicable to the Aboriginal population on a macro-level (much like social learning theory). Colonization theory cannot explain why some Aboriginal males are violent and some are not. In the same respect, the theory cannot account for why only some Aboriginal women experience violence despite their ancestors having experienced the same historical trauma (Brownridge 2003). Secondly, Brownridge (2009) states colonization theory is difficult to prove. Since the theory is rooted in the historical nature of a population, it is difficult to investigate the prevalence of violence prior to events such as colonization, the Indian Act, residential schools, and the “sixties scoop.”