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Native American Lakota star COLUMN OF THE AMERICAS: Trauma, Love & HistoryNative American Lakota star
By PATRISIA GONZALES & ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ

© Please respect this copyrighted material. It is not to be duplicated for any purpose without explicit written permission from the copyright holder.                                             *Page Added on: 04/26/2010

     I've tried to write about historical trauma for 10 years. How can anyone write about the effect that history has had on our bodies, our families, our lands, our plants, animals and rivers in 700 words? Can oppression kill love? And why is it some of us, but not all, assume the burden strap and carry the grief for our peoples' sufferings? Start with Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart's definition that helped to establish the very idea? Historical trauma (HT) is cumulative, collective wounding across generations “emanating from massive group trauma.”

     For decades, native peoples have sought to address this wounding as part of mental health, also calling it intergenerational trauma, or multigenerational unresolved grief. As Choctaw scholar Karina Walters notes, “The trauma is targeted to the collective and the collective experience it …The trauma is held personally and transmitted over generations. Thus, even family members who have not directly experienced the trauma can feel the effects of the event generations later.” However, Walters' research shows that not everyone experiences “historical trauma response.”

     Over the years, I've attended several conferences on historical trauma. The conferences of the Takini Network of native healers, scholars and therapists convened people such as Birgil Kills Straight, Nadine Tafoya, Larry Emerson, Lemyra DeBruyn, Bonnie Duran and Walters, who have helped establish an indigenous application of HT. Much of the development of HT theory for native peoples has its origins in this network when its members in the 1970's became conscious of their own unresolved traumatic grief.

     On one occasion, Brave Heart recounted how she looked upon the photograph of her ancestors and began to “sob uncontrollably.” A Jewish mentor understood immediately, “That's genocide.” The experience of Jewish Holocaust survivors and their offspring has helped native peoples understand the Native American Holocaust. The grandchildren suffered trauma just from having heard the stories of their Jewish elders. And they are more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder following a stressful event, thus leading to intergenerational transmission of historical trauma. In ceremonies, Brave Heart released the deepest grief and these experiences lead her to develop the theory of Historical Trauma, which now is one of the foundations of indigenous knowledge and mental health, and as Walters says, is a “fact that needs to be considered in post-traumatic stress disorder.” Walters has developed a related concept to HT, that of Colonial Trauma Response in either individuals or the collective. “Living under colonialism and colonial structures puts you at risk,” she told a Medical College of Wisconsin conference on the topic. And she's referring to the racism and politics of the here and now of the United States, the memories triggered in the s-word, native mascots, or other desecrations, such as the road being built through native shrines in Albuquerque and terminator seeds. Yes, the earth is also a survivor of historical trauma.

     The intellectual development of HT is far more than can be addressed here. For myself, it has led me to a most basic conclusion, that historical trauma has shaken our ability to love. I'd like to know, what happened to love? The ability to love -- to give it and receive it and to know it beyond a fantasy jewel. I wonder what love was like before boarding schools and forced conversion. Trauma corrodes the better part of us, eating away at the generosity still found among elders, a generosity of spirit, of accepting and welcoming people on their own terms, the sharing of yourself and the gifting of kindness.

     Perhaps it's as Eduardo Duran says, that trauma is a spirit that must be left offerings so that it will be at peace. Leslie Marmon Silko has written that there are spirits in stories and history. HT is like the phantom pain of an amputated limb. Despite it all, it's a miracle that we can, and do love, and still see the goodness in another. Love may not be talked about, but it speaks in our actions. Yes, to enjoy good relations, with our selves and others, to care and to love is to change history.

     I leave a few teas to help as we seek to release the grief and wounding. Drink boraja/borage during times of grief. It feeds the adrenal glands. Drink tea of rosemary flowers to calm the brain. Drink estafiate/mugwort, tila/linden and magnolia flower for the liver, nerves and heart in a 1:1:1 ratio. A teaspoon of herbs to one cup hot water. The plants will know what to do.

© Column of the Americas 2006

* We can be reached at: 608-238-3161 or XColumn@aol.com or Column of the Americas, PO BOX 5093 Madison WI 53705. Our bilingual columns are posted at: http://hometown.aol.com/xcolumn/myhomepage/

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