Category Archives: History and trauma

Cheyenne Dog Soldiers: The controversial warriors

Cheyenne Dog Soldiers: The Controversial warriors

Hello all!

How are you all doing on this Sunday afternoon? Here, on the West Coast, clouds are looming

Cheyenne Dog Soldier by James Bama

Cheyenne Dog Soldier by James Bama

and it is thus the perfect afternoon to be writing on my site 🙂 Over the past months, I have come across some paintings, by artist James Bama among others. If you follow my Facebook page, you would have seen some of those paintings. I was intrigued by one of those paintings titled Cheyenne Dog Soldier  so I began researching the topic of Dog Soldiers. What I found was a story of warriors who came together to help their people. However, the story is not as black and white as that. Whereas some would consider them heroes, some would consider them a military group whose power got the best of them. Which one is it? Well let’s start from the beginning and look at the story of the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers.

The Cheyenne and their societies

The Cheyenne people, a Plains tribe, were known to hold their own against even the fiercest of opponents. They had the fight in them and stood their ground. As with other Plains tribes, they were organized into societies with their own rules, privileges and duties. Each had their own songs and dances that distinguished them. The Dog Soldiers society was one of six military societies of the Cheyenne Indians. Beginning in the early 1800’s, this society played an important role in Cheyenne resistance (as I said they had the fight in them) to American expansion in Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming, where the Cheyenne had settled in the early 19th Century.

The formation of the Dog Soldiers society

The Cheyenne Dog Soldiers society was a “military” society put in place to regulate the members of the tribe, to regulate social problems among the tribe such as theft and murder. The oral tradition says that Sweet Medicine, the Cheyenne’s cultural hero, wished to find a solution to those problems. Thus he went into Black Hills country (yes the same Black Hills that the US government wants to currently take over from the Indigenous people of the land) to find answers. He then encountered a group of older men and women who told him that to solve the Cheyenne’s problem, a “good government” needed to be put into place. And this good government had to be formed of a council of 44 chiefs. Further, military societies had to be formed to provide policing and protection. So eventually, six military societies were formed including the Dog Soldiers. The Dog Soldiers rose among their peers to a position of prominence and power. They aimed to train their members and preserve traditions.

Cheyenne Dog Soldier

Another version of the beginnings of the Dog Soldiers and how they came into their name is the following. A young man without any influence, but chosen by the Great Prophet, tried to rally some of his companions to form a society. As no one would listen to him in the camp circle, he became sad, prayed to the Great Prophet and began singing at sunset. As the people fell asleep in their lodges, the dogs, small and big, howled and whined as the man sang. As he left the camp circle, all the dogs followed him, as he sang four times before reaching his destination at sunrise. He then sat by a tree facing north and all the dogs immediately went in front of him in a semi-circle. As they laid their heads down, a lodge suddenly sprang up around the man. As the dogs entered the lodge, they became humans dressed like the Dog Soldiers. The young man listened and watched as the Dog Men began to sing and dance their own music. The Dog Men blessed the man promising him that his wishes would become reality. The next day as he asked again who wanted to form a society, hundreds joined and he directed them to sing and dance like the Dog Men. Both versions of the formation of the Dog Soldiers are encountered in the oral tradition. I think the main point of both versions is that the society was there to protect using their own traditions, duties and privileges. Let’s then look at what they were

The Dog Soldiers traditions

It is said that each society, the Dog Soldiers included, had their own symbols, dances, songs and traditions. In regard to their outfits, the Dog Soldiers wore not only a whistle made of bird (typically an eagle) bone but also a belt made of four skunk skins. They carried a bow and arrow and a rattle shaped like a snake to accompany their songs. Further, the four bravest leaders in battle wore a dog rope (sashes made of tanned skin) across their chest. The sash passed over the right shoulder and hung to the ground under the left arm and was decorated with porcupine quills and eagle feathers. Tradition says that to each dog rope was attached a picket-pin (the kind you would use to secure a horse to the ground). While in combat, the pin was put into the ground as a sign of perseverance and standing one’s ground. The soldier was then effectively staked to the ground and could not move. They would do that in battle to allow their brothers’ safe retreat. The Dog Soldiers had to remain there in place until every one reached safety or someone relieved them. Even if it meant death. The Cheyenne tall and proud.

Dog Men

Dog Men

Those men were there to not only keep peace but also to guide their companions. For example, in the battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, when the Cheyenne joined the Lakota Sioux against General Custer, it is said that the Dog Soldiers advised the rest of the troops to stand down until the white man attacked. They told the troops to stay put patrolling the grounds making sure no one took it upon themselves to go after the white man first. Why? For the welfare of the whole group, for the welfare of the people. So they stood united. And as we know the strategy worked as Custer decided to attack even though he was unprepared and outnumbered, thus fighting his last battle.

However, power can get to one’s head…..

However, probably like in any other military societies, power got the best of some of the Dog Soldiers. Although individual punishment was not approved or sanctioned, some soldiers took it upon themselves to enforce rules furiously. Due some of their actions, and at times, what seemed like abuse of power, some of the Dog Soldiers (who had been led by Porcupine Bear, were ostracized from their village and tribe. They then became governed by their own band chiefs and lived outside of the main camp. The Dog Soldiers camp became independent from the main camp and new recruits understood they would have to move from the main camp. Seen as more extremists than before, the Dog Soldiers began attracting the more militant of the warriors fighting for the land and their boundaries.

By the 1860’s, Cheyenne Dog Soldiers and some of the Lakota warriors had joined forces Dog Soldier(working together in the Battle of Little Bighorn as previously stated). Together, they became more persistent and defiant. Some warriors also decided to go against the majority of the Cheyennes by opposing the civil chiefs who wished for peace. The Dog Soldiers had prestige and strength and often chose war over peace. The rest of the tribe often following suit. This led to many conflicts among their own people, with the Cheyenne people who wished for peace. Tribes were divided and the Dog Soldiers somewhat lost sight of their original mission: to think of the welfare of the whole group. 

The legacy of the Dog Soldiers

Nonetheless, the Dog Soldiers remain figures that one looks up to in the oral tradition. They remain a form of heroes, even though they became separate from the Cheyenne. They remain respected and revered.

Indeed, though the Dog Soldiers never approached the political and military power they once had, they remained revered by other Cheyenne. Respect is given to the society still today. Young Cheyenne are still recruited into this soldier clan. During the twentieth century, Dog Soldiers also served with the United States military in World War I and II and in the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf region. The image of the brave Dog Soldier carries on.

White Horse-1895

White Horse, Southern Cheyenne Dog Soldier leader-1895

So in the end, the Dog Soldiers had the right intentions: to keep the peace and to attend to the welfare of the whole group. They were brave men who stood their ground, and were not afraid to fight for what they had (or to keep what they had). However, power can be attractive (it is said to be an acquired need) and the story of the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers is an example. Nonetheless, a group that still commands respect for their bravery. I leave you with a short video showing the beauty of the Cheyenne people. Enjoy!

Had you heard of the Dog Soldiers? What are your thoughts on them? Comment below and I will answer 🙂

All my Relations



Human zoo: the example of the Selk’Nam natives

Human zoo: the example of the Selk’Nam natives

Hello hello!

How is everyone? I hope everyone is enjoying summer (or winter wherever you are). I recently came across some of the pictures included in this post and was horrified. To be honest, I found it very difficult to look at them. The pain in the faces of the individuals was just too great. But I started doing some research about the pictures and the context in which they were taken. What I found was even more disturbing: the existence of human zoos. Yes you read that right, humans being placed in enclosures, “natural habitats”, and being exposed like animals (not that I agree more with animals being enclosed and being displayed). So let us explore the concept of human zoos using the example of the Selk’Nam natives.

Selk'Nam natives 1899

Selk’Nam natives en route to Europe 1899

Who were the Selk’Nam natives?

I wrote “were” as the Selk’Nam natives are now extinct. The Selk’Nam natives were a tribe from Chile, part of 3 or 4 tribes that were taken to Europe to be exhibited. They lived in the Pantagonian region of Chile and Argentina, including the Tierra del Fugo islands (“land of fire”). They were actually one of the last Indigenous tribes of South America reached by the Westerners (when the government decided to explore and make use of Tierra del Fugo).

The Selk’Nams spoke a language called Chon and they were hunters and gatherers who were typically tall. They could adapt to any harsh conditions it seems. The Selk’Nam people were people with strong traditions. As in many native cultures, they lived as one with the land. “Mine” did not exist, it was ours. They lived at peace with Mother Earth and had their own ways of life. For example, their initiation ceremony, also called Hain, signified the passage of teenage males into adulthood (some resemblances to the Sunrise Ceremony for girls in the Apache culture). The teenagers had to go through several mental and physical tasks over months at an end, a process that was kept secret. They would paint their body, wear leather masks, emulating the spirits called into the ceremony.

Native women of the Tierra del Fugo

Native women of the Tierra del Fugo

Up until the late 19th century, the Selk’Nams had been left alone. But then the Spanish killed most of their games and took over the Tierra del Fugo to build large estates. The Selk’Nams were not familiar with the Spanish way of life, they did not understand the concept of sheep herd. Therefore, they began hunting the sheep, a gesture the ranchers did not appreciate. That led to Selk’Nams being hunted by the Spanish, who would receive their bounty when they would return with their victim’s ears.

Ultimately, the Selk’Nams became extinct over time. From a population of 3000 in 1896 to a population of 25 in 1945. Yes you read that right, 25! The last full blooded Selk’Nam, Anjela Loij, died in 1974. So there you have it, a whole nation who disappeared over time, killed, hunted and treated like objects to be gawked at. Let’s then look at how that happened.

Tierra del Fugo

Tierra del Fugo

The beginning of the human zoos

How can someone think it would ever be okay to exhibit human beings in a cage to be gawked at all day? That’s a hard question. But one needs to think about it this way. A more technologically advanced population (who lacks sensitivity it seems) finds a more primitive civilization who lives in ways they have never seen. Well, they must show that civilization to the world, to study them, to look at them, and to prove their superiority over them. Over time, civilizations have often assumed that if another civilization lives in a different manner, in a manner that is hard to understand, then they must be beneath them. Look at how Native people were treated over the years and still are: as being slow, not intelligent and stupid!! Sorry but that is just the truth. The wisdom of the ancestors was not respected. It was assumed they were dumb because they did not live in the same fashion, because they did not speak English well, because they took their time answering, thinking about the question and their answer. Oftentimes, they were treated like savages with nothing to say. So following that logic, putting them in a cage for entertainment is not that farfetched.

Selk'Nam natives

Selk’nam Natives

The year was 1889

So here we are in 1889, the year when, with the agreement of the Chilean government, 11 Selk’Nams were taken to Europe to be exhibited in human zoos. This included a 8 year old boy. Carl Hagenbeck is credited as the one who made zoos as we know them now (reproducing the animal’s natural habitat). However, Mr. Hagenbeck can also be “credited” as the one who began human zoos. It is said that he is the one who took those 11 Selk’nams to Europe to be exhibited  in a cage. How nice of him…I am sorry but I cannot help the sarcasm. But back then, the Pantagonian natives were a rarity. The Selk’Nams along with the Tehuelche and the Kawesqar were weighted, measured and photographed and were expected to perform every day. Sometimes 6 to 8 times a day. So that Europeans could gasp at those savages from across the ocean. Can you think of something more demeaning than that? I cannot. Needless to say, the Selk’Nams did not receive the best of care. Therefore, many of them did not make it back. Some did not even make it to Europe. Looking at the picture below, one can see that the conditions were more than sub-par. As the man in the picture basically looks like a lion tamer…Look at their faces….

Selk'Nams with Maurice Maitre-1889

Selk’Nams with Maurice Maitre in Paris-1889

I wish that was the end of it but no

Unfortunately, the Selk’Nams were not the only ones subjected to such humiliation. Numerous Indigenous people of the land were subjected to the same treatment. People of Africa, such as the pygmies, received the same treatment even in the 20th century. They were kept in enclosures, recreating “natural habitats” (as though Europeans knew anything about what that looked like). People were basically used for entertainment, expected to perform tricks (e.g. making funny faces, shooting at targets with arrows). Their lives were placed on display, paraded as curiosities. Talk about degrading.  Just so the “white rich folks” could be entertained and show to their children “what savages looked like”. As an animal lover, I am not a fan of zoos to begin with, a topic that induce mixed feelings in most. But a human zoo? That is crossing a major line. Look at the picture below. Some were taken in 1958!! And we are now left with extinct tribes that were forced (with the okay of the government) to leave their Mother Earth, their land, their traditions. For what? So that people could be entertained.

African girl in Belgium human zoo, 1958

African girl in a Belgium human zoo, 1958

Ota Benga

The sign in front of her exhibit read: Age, 23 years. Height, 4 feet 11 inches. Weight, 103 pounds. Brought from the Kasai River, Congo Free State, South Central Africa, by Dr. Samuel P. Verner. Exhibited each afternoon during September.

I leave you with the trailer of the movie “Human zoo” which tells the story of 25 Indigenous people from Chile who were taken to be part of the human zoos. A must watch. All my Relations



Native American spirituality: Different perspective on suicide

Native American Spirituality: Different perspective on suicide

Hello all!

If you follow my site’s Facebook page, you know that I am currently doing course 4 in my certificate on Aboriginal psychotherapy and complex trauma. I absolutely love this program and recommend it to anyone who will listen! It is a very nontraditional program in which traditional ways of healing such as using the land and Mother Earth to heal, using our connection to nature, using the ancestors to guide and help us. It is very much an experiential program in which we do try on ourselves what we would do with clients. As much as I love it, I am typically exhausted by the time a course is over. But it is a wonderful experience! So I thought I would share and write about a topic we discussed today: suicide. Yes not the most uplifting topic, I agree. I did not mean to be a bummer. BUT, actually the perspective I want to share is a different one in which suicide is seen, in a way, as having had an adaptive function over time. Stay with me and you will find out what I mean. Let’s look at Native American spirituality and suicide.


A Native American perspective on suicide

In today’s day and age, suicide has a negative connotation. We tend to skirt the topic and pretend suicide does not exist. Or we tend to reassure loved ones of those who have committed suicide by saying things such as “she does not feel pain anymore” or “she is in heaven now”. Well, let’s think about this for a sec. So the one who committed suicide does not feel pain anymore? Well I want that too then. I mean, although it is meant to be reassuring, it almost makes suicide attractive here. “Who wants to stay alive and feel pain?” “Who wants to die and not feel pain anymore?” That is quite a restrictive view of suicide. I get that those words are meant to reassure those left behind but they portray suicide in a light that might not be accurate. This is not a tampon commercial, we are not all running in a field to go to a better place.

What else are we supposed to say you ask? Well, let’s think about it for a second. Within the Native cultures (yes there is more than one), the connection to Mother Earth, to the land is strong. We connect with the ground beneath our feet, with the wind in the Father Sky, with the warmth of Grand-father Sun, with the water of Grand-mother Ocean. We feel all of this on our earthly body. Because our life as we know it is our “earth time” in which we are in our physical form. We return to our spiritual form in the spirit world at death. So how about saying “she will never feel the wind on her face again” or “she won’t be able to feel the sun on her skin” instead? To remind us that we also need to be thankful for our bodies, for our physical side. We need to embrace our life on Earth before we go to the Spirit world. Because once we have crossed, our earth time is over and that comes with aftereffects that are rarely mentioned.


But wait suicide has always been present

Yes it has. It was present before the colonization of Turtle Island. Our ancestors committed suicide. They died for their land or their community. For example, older people would go off to die rather than slow down a nomadic tribe. Not as a sacrifice but rather as a way to serve the land or their community. If their earthly body was failing them, if they were in pain, if they believed that their family or community would do better that way. In a sense, it had an adaptive function. Kids would kill themselves if they saw their family struggling to eat so that the family could survive. This is still seen at times today, except that it is called an accident. I know some of you might be scratching their head, but suicide has always been and remains an option. It has always been there in the life of Indigenous people and will remain there. Suicide then has to be perceived as being normal. We all have our own different relationship with suicide. We sit beside it, we look at it, we explore it.

For some I can understand that what I just said might be scary. Because suicide is often considered to be a taboo. But suicide is present so we might as well talk about it. In numerous nations, on numerous reserves, suicide rates are high, higher than in the general population. Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are indeed the leading cause of death for First Nations youth and adults up to 44 years of age. It does not mean that every community has a high suicide rate. It means, however, that on average, the suicide rate is higher in Aboriginal youth than non-Aboriginal youth in Canada (5 to 1, up to 11 to 1 for Inuit youth). You will also see cluster suicides, of teens at times, where a teenager commits suicide and then a few follow suit. Or an echo suicide, i.e. suicides that take place after an extended period of time after the first one (e.g. on the anniversary of the death).

Hopi prayer

Hopi prayer for those who have lost a loved one

So yes we need to talk about it

Talking openly about suicide is what is done in Aboriginal focusing oriented therapy (AFOT, the program I am taking). We go toward suicide, we do not run away from it. We have an open discussion about it, we do not shame those who are thinking about dying or have tried to kill themselves. We respect and recognize that part of them might feel like dying. And then we can explore which part that is. And very importantly, if there is a vicarious or intergenerational component to that feeling. What do I mean by that? Well we explore whether that feeling is theirs alone or if part of it might belong to past generations. Was it the client’s mom feeling the same or the grand-mother maybe? Are clients carrying their ancestors’ experiences within themselves? Yes they are. Their body carries it. Their body carries the memory of what happened to their ancestors. And we need to be mindful of that reality.

smudging fan

So yes talking about suicide might be scary. When I first heard that suicide was and always is an option, my stomach churned. I was not comfortable with that. But then you have to look at it this way: suicide might be an option but it might not be the one I am taking right now. I am comfortable talking about suicide. I have done it many time in my work in jails. Detailed and intimate discussions about the client’s thoughts, feelings, actions. And what I found is that most individuals will find it reassuring to have those conversations. That someone can hold all of that. Because as therapists that is what we do, we hold. We serve as the container for the client to safely empty what makes them feel uncomfortable. We sit with it.

And that is not always easy. Cue Mother Earth. Yes we need to use the land to hold the client’s feelings. The land can do that. Imagine you are standing up and the space in front of you can hold what makes you uncomfortable, what hurts you, what scares you. Well in AFOT, that is what is done. The space, the land serves as a space to put the client’s feelings so they can be observed and discussed from a safer distance. The land will hold them so that it can feel safer to discuss them. The land is strong, solid (rocks do not move, we can count on them) while also offering fluidity (the fluidity of water, water washes the rocks).


So here we have it: suicide. A topic that is uncomfortable for many. But it is a reality and not talking about it won’t make it less a reality. So we might as well talk about it. Sit with it, have a conversation with it, a relationship to it. Normalize the whole thing so that people can speak more openly without feeling shame. While remembering that we are not alone as Mother Earth is there to help. What are your thoughts about suicide? Anyone offended by what I said? Anyone agrees? Comment below and I will answer 🙂

All my Relations


Truth and Reconciliation Commission: in search of justice and healing

Truth and Reconciliation Commission: a journey in healing

Hello all

This week in Canada was a significant one for First Nations people, the Indigenous people of Canada. It was a week of remembering, making public history and healing. Indeed, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) made public its findings and shared them with all Canadians. But wait what is the TRC you ask? Let’s look at the commission that made public a part of history that most Canadians are not aware of.

Why Truth and Reconciliation?

Hmmmmm why is truth and reconciliation needed? Well, because of centuries of unfairness, of injustice against the Native people of the land, of Turtle Island. What am I talking about? More specifically, I am talking about a part of Canadian (and USA) history that most of us did not learn in school. Residential schools. A part of history that most of us do not know about or do not feel connected to. “I had nothing to do with it”. Well, actually all Canadians had something to do with it. Residential schools (RS) were an government initiative in collaboration with the catholic church to “tame the savages”. An occasion to save the child and kill the indian. An occasion to make every child who attended hate their own culture and language. As well as a place of abuse of every kind.

It is reported that one out of 25 children who went to RS died in RS. Just about the same ratio as Canadian soldiers who died in Word War II. 150 000 children attended RS, hundred of thousands of families saw their kids being taken away in cattle wagons, in trucks, helpless while they drove away. Mothers trying to hide their children without success. Some having attended RS themselves, knowing full well what was to come for their young ones.

Granted there might have been some good intentions behind RS. Some. Such as providing an education to Native children. However, the end result was generations of Native people abused, ridiculed and punished for speaking their language or practicing their traditions. To the point of hating those traditions themselves, to the point of hating being Indian. It is hard to believe that those schools were actually opened until 1996. But it is true. Leaving hundred of thousands of people in need of healing.

TRC logo

Hence the creation of the TRC….

In 2008, the Canadian government made a public apology to First Nations people for the suffering that took place in RS, for an initiative that absolutely and totally failed (my words not theirs). At the same time, the TRC was created. To look into what happened in order to get to the truth. The members of the Commission interviewed thousands of survivors to get their story, to find out what their experience was like. And those stories are forever recorded.

Over the next six years, a series of events took place all over Canada. Truth and Reconciliation weeks all over. Weeks during which survivors got to sit down together to share. Sharing circles. Open to everyone who wanted to support. Not just listen as passive participants, but rather as active listeners, there to support, understand and be there to get to the truth, and continue listening no matter how hard it is to.

truth and reconciliation

I was one of those active participants, who sat and supported in Vancouver, BC in September 2013. It brought tears to my eyes to hear the stories, to hear the numbers the survivors were called while at RS (numbers rather than names were used). Mixed with the smell of smudge, the sound of drums. A place where trauma was discussed but also a place of healing.

Those weeks were just part of the dialogue that took place over the years covering the TRC mandate. A mandate that came to an end this week. An emotional week filled with grief, sadness but also happiness and pride. RS were classified as having been places of “cultural genocide” (that in itself deserves a standing ovation), a place children were sent to lose their identity and culture and at times, die. Many who left their lives in RS were never even identified formally, as they just “disappeared”. How can an apology from the Prime Minister ever be enough?

What is next?native american smudging

What is next is a very long report from the TRC recording all the stories of the survivors they have interviewed. A report containing findings and recommendations for the Canadian government and population. So that healing can take place, so that reconciliation can happen with what happened. So that awareness is increased and so that no one says “I had nothing to do with it” anymore. It’s not about placing the blame on anyone, it’s about reparation, recognition and healing.

What are some of the recommendations? More resources invested in the missing and murdered Aboriginal girls and women of Canada. A commitment to eliminate the over-representation of First Nations People in jails. The creation and funding for new Aboriginal education legislation, closing the gap for Native people. The creation of a commemorative holiday for the survivors of RS. The implementation of health-care rights for Aboriginal people. And so on. Yay, yay and yay! Finally!

I think the TRC opened the Pandora box that was RS. What might have been swept under the rug in the past is now out in the open. And after centuries of abuse being ignored or hidden, it feels good to have things in the open. Does it repair what happened, does it make it okay? Of course not. But it is a beginning. Just a beginning. Recognition that healing is needed. And we all need to participate for that to happen.


Finally, I urge you to look at the TRC website. Many interesting videos to watch. So much to learn on that site.

And a great article for my US friends:

All my Relations


Sand Creek Massacre: The injustice that affected women and children

Sand Creek Massacre: The injustice that affected women and children

Hello all!

I have been relatively absent this week on my site, as an infection of some sort left me with no energy and a very tenacious cough. If you follow my Facebook page you will have seen some posts about intergenerational trauma, residential schools and healing and reconciliation. More to come in another post. But for today, I want to continue talking about the history of trauma and genocides the Native people have gone through. Oftentimes, in the name of land, of who would have the most of it. So let’s explore an event that is called the Sand Creek Massacre.

sand creek massacre

Before 1864

The Era

Let’s place a bit of context around the massacre. Turtle Island was already in a full on undeclared war for the land. The US Army and the US government were on a mission to get the land from the Indigenous people. Thousands of Cherokees had already been displaced and forced off their land during what is now referred to as the Trail of Tears in 1830. Then President Andrew Jackson approved the Indian Removal Act, which basically allowed him to remove any tribes living east of the Mississippi River. They say about 45 000 First Nation people were removed from their home, forced to take a journey on a treacherous terrain. Many left their life behind and later lost it out of hunger, fatigue, exhaustion or sickness. Jackson’s Indian Removal Act marked the beginning of the Removal Era.

Indeed, disputes over land were rampant. This was before the Indian Act of 1876, which officially confined Native people on reserves, an experience they never had before. As to them, there was no need for reserves. There was just land, their land. Why put boundaries on a land that was theirs, right? 

Lindneaux painting of the massacre

Lindneaux painting of the Sand Creek Massacre

Well a series of treaties followed, which promised numerous things to Native people, only to screw them over later on. Sorry, but there is no other way to say it. In 1861, another treaty was written with the Cheyenne and Arapaho nations. The treaty of Fort Wise. As expected, the treaty’s result was land taken away from the Cheyenne and Arapaho, land that was given to them with previous treaties. What were they left with you ask? About 1/13th of their previous land. Why did they sign it then? Well, remember the context here. Chiefs were trying to maintain peace and to keep their people safe. But of course, not everyone was happy about the results of the Fort Wise treaty. In particular, a group named Dog Solders was greatly opposed to having the White man living on indigenous land. Tension was high.

What happened in 1864

Keeping the land was important to Indian chiefs but so was trying to keep the peace. Enough blood had been shed (if only they knew it was only the beginning). So in September of 1864, Arapaho and Cheyenne chiefs met with the US military to seek peace east of Denver. You can see a group picture below.

delegation of Cheyenne and Arapaho

delegation of Arapaho and Cheyenne chiefs

However, things did not go as planned. Otherwise there would not have been a massacre…Therefore, in November of 1864, commander Colonel John Chivington, with the okay of governor John Evans began his attack on the Cheyenne tribes in Colorado. Simultaneously, more Cheyenne camps were being attacked in Kansas under the supervision of Lieutenant George S. Eayre.

Nevertheless, the Native people being peaceful people, still had peace on their mind. Chiefs Black Kettle and White Antelope tried to establish a truce. Both chiefs received advice to establish camp at a certain spot and to fly the American flag as a sign of peace. The flag was supposed to represent friendliness. On November 29, 1864, when most men were out hunting, the cavalry of Colonel Chivington and his 700 troops descended upon the camp.

National Park service brochure

National historic site brochure from the National Park Service

The result? About 150-200 Indians died that day. Even though a white flag was put up, and the men were out hunting, the massacre occurred. Most victims were women and kids. Moreover, many of them were mutilated and paraded down the streets of Denver by dear Colonel Chivington. Even though eyewitnesses obviously were present, no charges were ever laid.

Sand Creek Massacre

So there you have it. It feels like history repeating itself… The Native people, the Indigenous people of the land, wishing for peace and getting massacred instead. I am sorry if it sounds abrupt but it is what happened. And unfortunately, it was not over after the Sand Creek Massacre. More genocides were to come, including the very sad battle of Wounded Knee. We are talking years and years of stealing of the land, of deaths, unnecessary deaths, innocents losing their lives. We have come a long way since (with more misery in between) but there is some healing taking place. There is resilience in the people. So much of it. The Red Man will rise again. He is rising.

All my Relations


Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women: A follow up intro

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women: A follow up intro

Hi all!


honoring the missing and murdered women

Today I want to share a short post about an important topic, which I have broached before and will cover more in depth later. I am struggling beginning this post, knowing how to, because it is an emotional one. One that hits close to home. Missing and Murdered Indigenous women in Canada. We discussed it yesterday in my course and it made me think about the situation more in depth. I also became aware of the organization “Walking with our sisters” honoring and commemorating through art, the missing Aboriginal women. Let’s discuss the topic using a wonderful documentary I just watched.


Continue reading

Native American health care: where does cultural safety come in?

Native American health care: how is it different?

Hello all!

I was recently asked to write a little something about the concept of “cultural safety” in regard to Indigenous people. At first my thoughts were “what is that?” and “what the heck am I going to write?”. But quickly it became obvious that cultural safety in the health care system referred to a practice of health care appropriate to Native people, respectful of the traditions and sensitive to the history of intergenerational trauma. But let’s not give everything away right now! I am writing this article in continuation to my article about Native American therapy and my article about historical trauma. Let’s see what it means to practice health care in a culturally safe way.

History of the White man looking down

As I discuss in my article on Native American historical trauma, the Native people have a history of power differential with the White men. The Aboriginal ways were not only ridiculed for many years but at some point banned. With colonization and what followed (e.g. residential schools), culture, language and traditions were banned and severe consequences were to follow if one was to even try to celebrate their culture and people. Beautiful regalia that we see today at Pow wows was forbidden. Can you imagine a life without regalia? Without Pow wows or ceremonies? I can’t! native american regalia

But here, we are talking about centuries of the White man looking down on the Indian, denigrating the Indian, trying to control the Indian. Very unfortunate but true. The Native people’s lives were controlled in all their aspects. The colonizing of the Indigenous people led to terror on their part, led to an incredible loss of freedom and power (they could not even vote on policies affecting them!). What followed was significant trauma for numerous generations. Therefore, if we keep that in mind, our health care system and its professionals working with Native people, can certainly reactivate past trauma, as it is felt in the body, the mind and the soul.

Why a reactivation of trauma?

Well, health care professionals are authority figures and Native people could feel that the White way is imposed on them. Within the health care system, there is already a power differential between professional and client. if that professional is White and the client is Aboriginal, then the differential is even more pronounced. What does that lead to? A lack of trust from the Native clients and a shutting down of the clients. Because if one is feeling controlled or feeling oppressed, one will not feel like collaborating.

native american flute

The effects of colonization are long standing and profound as they were felt in subsequent generations and are still felt today. And those effects affect the health of Native American people today. Indeed, long-term consequences such as unhealthy lifestyles leading to poor health, substance abuse or a high suicide (or suicide attempts) rate are all realities of today’s world. And too often the clients are blamed by using denigrating stereotypes such as “the drunk indian”. In a way, for the dominant culture, it is much easier to think in terms of stereotypes than looking at its role in the trauma….

So what is Native American cultural competency or safety?

I would say that cultural competency and safety is letting go of those stereotypes. And meeting the person where they are at (which should really be done with every client). It also means that the health care professional has to be aware and recognize the history of intergenerational trauma within the Native population (if not, one runs the risk of reactivating the trauma). Which translates in understanding that numerous generations are involved in the dynamic presenting itself in front of the healthcare professional.

It means keeping an open mind to different perspectives of a situation, a perspective that might involve acknowledging the patient’s ancestors who are there to guide him or her. At the very least, it means respecting the client’s belief that they are. Respect, it’s all about respect and keeping an open mind. Cultural safety also means to listen, to listen to the patient’s worldview and to work to gain their trust by respecting their ideas and beliefs rather than imposing them. To have an open dialogue about those beliefs, which might include remedies/medicine from Mother Earth and the land, remedies that were used by previous generations. Past generations used so much of what is provided by the land. No synthetic stuff for them. Natural all the way, and far less illnesses. If the Aboriginal client does not feel heard or respected by the health care professional then chances are that treatment compliance will be very low. A lose-lose situation.

indian at wrk magazine

Should “white” health care methods be then eliminated?

In three words: of course not! A division between the two worlds is not what should be the goal. Working together should be the goal. Every human being contributes to this world and many modern practices are influenced by traditional ways of healing. And let’s face it, there are more illnesses in this world, illnesses that our ancestors did not have to face. However, it also means that modern medicine has made tremendous progress over time to cure illnesses that were deadly before.

Therefore, combining Indigenous ways to treat and heal with modern medicine provides a more holistic approach. An approach that attends not only to one’s physical side but also mental, emotional and spiritual sides. A balance of all four sides is what true health is. Remember the Medicine wheel people! We aim to find that balance between our four sides. Respecting the client’s beliefs, inviting an occasion to share treatment with the client’s Medicine medicine wheelman or Elder for example. Working together as a team. Because that is what the Aboriginal culture is about: respect all of our relations. It’s not about one being superior while the other is inferior.

We need to respect the medicine we take from Mother Earth, taking only what is needed and giving back to nature. But respecting others’ way of proceeding and their medicine is also essential. A mutual respect is the highest form of respect. We need to see the approaches as being complementary rather than competing. As we are all one. We are all related and so are our ways. That what I call Native American cultural safety.

medicine man

A Navajo medicine man in ceremonial dress-1904










What are your thoughts? Do you agree? What is cultural safety for you? Would you add anything? Comment below!

Head Smashed-in Buffalo Jump, Alberta: a heritage place to visit

Head Smashed-in Buffalo Jump, Alberta: a UNESCO heritage site to visit

Hello all!

I hope you are having a good week wherever you are. I had an awesome day attending a

Head Smashed-In Buffalo jump

Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

conference on Indigenous health care practices and traditional practitioners in a longhouse. Singing, drumming, hoop dancing and starting 30 minutes late…. the Native way of doing a conference you know 🙂 Now that I am back home, I wish to discuss a heritage site located in Alberta (90 minutes south of Calgary), Canada. The name of the place is Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. Let’s see what the buzz is about.

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Native American historical trauma

Native American historical trauma: the silent risk factor

Hello all!

Man was it a busy week! But I have been thinking about what I want to discuss throughout the week and I want to share part of the research I did a few years ago in graduate school. I was at the time researching the concept of historical or intergenerational trauma and traditional ways of healing and the practice of native spirituality. Not going to lie it influenced the creation of my site 🙂 Although not an easy topic to discuss, I want to share some data, research and stats with you. Not to worry it won’t be as boring as it sounds! I also want to share my professional experience with you. So let’s get started.

eagle feather

What is intergenerational or historical trauma?

The concept of historical trauma refers to trauma that has been passed down the generations. In other words, what affected our ancestors is affecting us today. How is that possible you ask? Well let’s look at some factors. Research shows (e.g. Duran et al., 2004) that, in North America at least, Aboriginal people are more subject to what is referred to adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect and substance abuse within the household. Therefore, trauma present is carried forward from parents to children and so on.

Moreover, Native people are also faced with additional adult traumas or stressful experiences spiritualitysuch as poverty, unemployment, violence or witnessing violent or traumatic events. What is experienced in childhood has an effect later on. Now adults, the trauma is witnessed by their children, who now live in a traumatic household. Some of you might say or at least think of the usual stereotypes such as “dirty drunk indians” or “they beat their women”, or “they all end up in jail”. But let’s look at it for a different perspective.

The effects of colonization

So yes the stereotypes are there. But let’s ponder the following for a second shall we? The Native Americans’ present situation is in sharp contrast with their situation before the arrival of Europeans explorers in America. Whereas today they present as a population at risk, in the past, before colonization and attempts at assimilation by Europeans, they presented as mostly independent and self-governing nations with their own beliefs and philosophies in regard to cultural, educational, family or economic questions (Bombay, Matheson & Anisman, 2009).


Furthermore, with the establishment of the Indian Act (1876), the lives of Aboriginal peoples were changed drastically. Indeed, the Act not only dictated who was an Indian but also established policies controlling Aboriginal peoples by, for example, outlawing cultural practices and ceremonies as well as rendering Residential schools mandatory and enforcing a forced adoption program (Bombay, Matheson & Anisman, 2009). Moreover, Aboriginal peoples were refused the right to vote for those policies, leaving them powerless as their land, language and culture and ultimately their identity were taken away. 

Hmmmm, puts things into perspective doesn’t it? But wait! That’s not all.

Residential schools and Sixties Scoop

Not surprisingly, although the nature of historical trauma might have varied across communities and was at times unique to certain tribes (there were community effects), a common theme revolves around the colonization period and later on, around the establishment and attendance of residential schools by Aboriginal children throughout Canada and the USA. This was combined with a phenomenon known as the Sixties Scoop (both efforts at assimilation of Aboriginal children). The Sixties Scoop refers to a period during which children were taken forcibly from their families to be adopted by non-Aboriginal families, living sometimes as far as Europe.

Moreover, Residential schools (RS) and their attendance, which existed from 1863 to 1996 and

Apache students before and after Carlisle Residential school

Apache students before and after Carlisle Residential school

were mandated by the Indian Act, were forced upon Aboriginal children in an attempt to acculturate and assimilate them to not only the dominant culture (English Caucasian) but also to the catholic religion. The goal of RS was then two-fold: to separate the children from their families, culture and communities and to assimilate them to the dominant culture. In addition to the trauma of being separated from their families and culture, Residential schools were a place of neglect and abuse for many children who attended them. Any form of cultural identity was suppressed, oftentimes using physical abuse. As it has been notoriously said, the goal was to “kill the Indian in the child” or to “beat the Indian out of the child” (Indigenous Foundations, 2009). Children were taught the English language and to be ashamed of their culture (Bombay et al., 2009).

So not surprisingly….

Those conditions led to difficulty for survivors of RS to develop socialization skills and parenting skills ingrained in their culture of origin, let alone passing them along to the next generation. Therefore, one can consider that those direct effects of the abuse and trauma (psychological) on survivors of RS were passed down to subsequent generations, i.e. to have an intergenerational effect. Indeed, it has been suggested that numerous survivors of RS returned home lacking appropriate social behaviour, as well as presenting with inadequate parenting skills or behaviors modeled after the behaviors of their caregivers while in RS (Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council, 1996). Attendance at RS and abusive experiences encountered while there disrupted the transmission of cultural practices as well as weakened or damaged the parenting skills of survivors, oftentimes resulting in an unhealthy family environment. 

head dress

War Bonnet

So what are we left with?

Well we are left with individuals who are stuck. Stuck in a cycle of abuse, violence and incarceration. In Canada, in British Columbia, where I am, 25-33% of the prison population is Aboriginal, a gross over-representation of the proportion of Aboriginals in the general population (5%). In the Prairies provinces, that number is even more astronomical, up to 75% of the prison population! I mean come on! That does not tell you something? That prison is often used as a method of punishment for Native individuals who are perpetuating a cycle of historical abuse (prison itself perpetuating it). I am not saying that it excuses the individuals’ actions and that jail should never be. jail

But I have worked in jails. If they actually worked as a deterrent, the recidivism rate would not be up to 50%….Without any sort of help with all the issues mentioned above, all the risk factors and the history of abuse, how in the hell is prison going to rehabilitate someone? I am sorry but to break that cycle, to get back to one’s cultural identity, to the ancestral ways of living and healing, it takes a lot of efforts and strength. As it means that one has to let go of what one knows, which has often become comforting, even if maladaptive. It takes courage, a whole redefinition of one’s life and priorities and ways of seeing those around. It means trusting the Elders, letting go of those bringing you down, it means talking about it, sharing one’s story, pain and hurt, to listen to the one of others, it means slowing down, seeing who is there to help and who is not, going back to the traditional values of respect, humility, courage, honesty, generosity, compassion and wisdom. And that is one hell of a hard thing to do…But it can be done. And in a way, it has to be done to work through the effects of colonization.

All my Relations


Chief Joseph: A great Nez Perce Leader

Chief Joseph: An influential Nez Perce leader

Hello all!

Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph

If you have been on this site, you know that I like to share the history of the Native nations, of the people. I believe that knowing the history, the past, informs the future and gives us a better understanding of the present. The trauma of the native people cannot be denied, more than one genocide took place. However, that trauma is not well known. Or maybe I would just like for it to be better known. I am not sure. Nevertheless, our ancestors fought for us to be here today. They fought for their basic rights to practice their traditions, for the respect of their culture and to keep the land they were born on. Some great chiefs such as Sitting Bull and Big Foot fought those battles, literally or figuratively. Today, let’s discuss another one of the great chiefs, Chief Joseph.

Chief Joseph: Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt

What does that mean you ask? Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt is chief Joseph’s birth name, meaning Thunder Rolling down a Mountain. What a beautiful name!! However, for the sake of keeping this short, I will continue to refer to him as Chief Joseph….Chief Joseph, a member of the Nez Perce tribe, was born in 1840 in Wallowa valley, which was in the Oregon territory. He was mostly known by the name of Joseph, the same name as his father, Old Joseph or Joseph the Elder. Old Joseph acquired his name after being baptized in 1838. Yes you read right, he was baptized. Indeed, Old Joseph had a uncommon relationship with Christianity for the times, as he converted to the religion. Although a controversial decision, it helped his relationship with his white neighbors. Chief Joseph (Junior) was then raised partly in a Christian mission. The peace between the Nez Perce people and the white people was however short lived. Why? Blame gold….Once gold was found on Nez Perce territory, the US government went back on its word, taking back acres and acres of land promised to the Nez Perce. Joseph the Elder renounced his bible in an act of defiance and out of frustration and refused to sign off on those new boundaries.

Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph by Edward S Curtis

Chief Joseph the leaderquote Chief Joseph

After the death of Old Joseph, his son took over and assumed his leadership. He was also against the loss of land and the proposed resettlement by the US government of the Nez Perce tribe. He worked closely with chiefs Looking Glass and White Bird. Together, they felt the tension mounting. Fearing a possible war, the chiefs actually backed down and agreed to the new boundaries.

However, chief White Bird had his own plans. Indeed, just before the resettlement was to happen, his band launched an attack, killing several white men. At that moment, understanding the repercussions of such an act, Chief Joseph chose not to go into war but rather to lead his people to safety. Contrary to chiefs who preceded him and who succeeded him, Chief Joseph chose to not fight, retreating instead. This was an unprecedented move. Some might see this as cowardliness. However, in order to be truly informed one has to known what Chief Joseph did next. Over the next months, Chief Joseph and his 700 followers actually embarked on a 1400 mile journey to Canada. Yes you read that right, 1400 on horses and walking! During that journey, they often had to defend themselves against US forces (that outnumbered them greatly), reaching numerous victories.

let things remain-Chief Joseph

A tiring journey

However, the journey was taking a toll on Chief Joseph and his men. With numerous deaths including the one of chief Looking Glass and Chief Joseph’s brother as well as women and children, in 1877 the group stopped 40 miles from the Canadian border, hungry and exhausted. They surrendered, Chief Joseph asking for time to look for the children, whether they were dead or alive. He famously said: “My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever”.

For the other half of his life, Chief Joseph continued to share the plight of his people first in Kansas then to present day Oklahoma. He pleaded to the authorities to be returned to the Nez Perce land, to no avail.  He was finally able/allowed to return to the Pacific Northwest in 1885. However, the land he had known as a child was no more. War and disease had taken numerous of his people and he himself died in 1904 in Washington. Some say he died of a broken heart, of sadness from seeing his homeland in such a state. Chief Joseph showed great strength and wisdom in his life, making the decision to try to lead his people to safety. Some might not agree with his decision, knowing now the end result. However, I see Chief Joseph for the kind heart that he was, the pacific leader who still fought for his people and their rights, the chief who died of a broken heart over his lost land and tribe.

quote Chief Joseph

All my Relations