Transcending Historical Trauma

“Myself, I’m one of the generations. My mother is one of the generations, wandering out there in alcoholism, and death, and murder, and domestic violence, and thinking there’s no way out. Well, there is a way out… Like I tell my children, my grandchildren, ‘You don’t have to walk that road of alcoholism and drug addiction. I walked that road. I took all those beatings for you guys. You don’t have to walk that road.’

– Verna Bartlett, Ph.D., Native American elder and sexual abuse survivor

Looking back at the past few centuries of America’s westward expansion, we can witness a long history of cataclysmic events inflicted upon generations of American Indians. Our country’s growth was at the expense of the continent’s indigenous peoples who suffered genocide, dislocation, and other unspeakable patterns of violence on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels.

The adverse effects of this history carried down from generation to generation are known as historical trauma. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, widely regarded as the “mother of historical trauma” by Native Americans, describes historical trauma as the cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over one’s lifetime and from generation to generation following loss of lives, land and vital aspects of culture.

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