Tag Archives: historical trauma

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).

smudging

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

 

Women warrior song and Highway of Tears

Hey all!

A bit of history

So far my posts have been about the Native culture, practices and beliefs and today I want to switch gears for a bit. As with the Native culture, also comes trauma. Actually years and years of trauma. There will soon be a section specifically about historical trauma but I thought I would introduce the notion here. Historical trauma or intergenerational trauma is trauma that is passed down from one generation to the other. Our behaviors are learned, as children we learn to behave a certain way. To copy someone, to protect ourselves, to survive. Violence, substance abuse and mental health issues have a higher prevalence in the Native people. Violent ways or substance abuse issues are passed down from great grand-parents, to grand-parents, to parents to children who keep it going with their children. Remember the saying about what we do affects the next seven generations? Well this is what I mean. In order to survive, those unhealthy patterns are repeated.

The effects of events such as the introduction of alcohol by the white man, the loss of the lands, the residential schools system and the welfare scoop of the 1960’s, to name a few, still have a major effect on the Native people. Who are trying to sift through the trauma they themselves went through as well as their ancestors. Some ceremonies have a healing purpose, such as the healing circle. Some stories, some of us would not believe  are true. But they are, they are. Such violence and such pain. But the traditional native way of healing, called the Red Road or the Red Path, offers a way of life that is healing. And it is much needed within that culture to break the cycle so that they and the next generations can be healthy. 

smudging prayer

Missing women and warrior song

In Canada, of the women who go missing or are murdered each year, 80% are Aboriginal. Some were without families to miss them or report them missing. In British Columbia (BC), many of those women have disappeared on what is now referred to as the Highway of Tears, a stretch of highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert. The murders of those women, committed between 1969 and 2011, are often referred to as the Highway of Tears murders and still constitute an open investigation. The Native world, as wide as it can be, is also a small world. And chances are that if you talk to a Native person in BC, they will have known in one way or another, one of those women from the Highway of Tears. For more information, you can visit:

http://www.highwayoftears.ca/

The Women’s warrior song below, is a song in honour of those missing women across Canada (notice the eagle circling above them). I first heard it at a pow wow a few years ago. At the time, I did not know what the song or its meaning was. Nonetheless, I had a strong reaction to it. I suddenly felt ill, struggled breathing and started sweating. Until I focused on a little girl dancing in her moccasins around the drummers. When I told an Elder I had a strange experience, without me saying anything, he described how I had felt. I asked him how he knew. His answer: because you were visited by a spirit and you felt its pain and energy. An experience I will never forget. To this day, I still have chills every time I hear it.

All my Relations