Major Scholars of Native American Historical Trauma:
Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart
Eduardo and Bonnie Duran
"Healing the Soul Wound in Flight
and Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian"
Historical Trauma: The collective
emotional and psychological injury both over the life span and across
generations, resulting from a cataclysmic history of genocide.
Historical Unresolved Grief: Grief resulting from
the historical trauma of genoicde, grief that has not been expressed,
acknowledged and resolved. Like trauma, it can span across generations.
Grief that persons experience when a loss cannot be openly acknowledged or
publicly mourned. Indians have been portrayed by the dominant culture as stoic
and without feelings, incapable of grief. There has been little recognition of
their sense of loss, need to mourn, or ability to do so. The message is that
Indians have no need or right to grieve.
Internalized Oppression: When assaulted in a genocidal
fashion, with the victim's complete loss of power comes despair, and the psyche
reacts by internalizing what appears to be genuine power--the power of the
oppressor. The internalizing process begins when Native American people
internalize the oppressor, which is merely a caricature of the power actually
taken from Native American people. At this point, the self-worth of the
individual and/or group has sunk to a level of despair tantamount to
self-hatred. This self-hatred can be either internalized or externalized. . .
Research has demonstrated the grim reality of internalized hatred results in
suicide. Another way in which the internalized self-hatred is manifested
symptomatically is through the deaths of massive numbers by alcoholism.
When self-hatred is externalized, we encounter a level of violence within the
community that is unparalleled in any other group in the country. (Duran
and Duran, 29). Anger and aggression are acted out upon oneself and others like
the self (members of one's group); internalization of self-hatred is an outcome
of oppression and the danger of direct expression of anger toward the dominant
"The American Indian Holocaust: Healing Historical Unresolved Grief:
Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart and Dr. Lemyra M. DeBruyn
Abstract: American Indians experienced massive losses of lives, land, and
culture from European contact and colonization resulting in a long legacy of
chronic trauma and unresolved grief across generations. This phenomenon, called
historical unresolved grief, contributes to current social pathology of high
rates of suicide, homicide, domestic violence, child abuse, alcoholism and other
social problems among American Indians. Interventions based on traditional
Native American ceremonies and modern western treatment modalities for grieving
and healing of those losses are described.
Social ills among American Indians and Alaska Natives are primarily the
product of a legacy of chronic trauma and unresolved grief across
generations. Historical unresolved grief contributes to current social pathology
originating from loss of lives, land, and vital aspects of Native culture due to
the European conquest o the Americas.
Losses from disease, annihilation, starvation, military and colonialist
expansionist and assimilationist policies cause grief.
Mission Schools starting in 1700s: change Indian culture and identity
The Boarding School Era 1879 -1950s
Violence and Shame, Self-Esteem and Parenting Skills
Children were removed from homes, beaten, given shaming messages of
Told Indian families were not capable of raising their own children and that
Indians are culturally and racially inferior.
Abusive behaviors: physical, sexual, emotional were experienced and learned by
No emotional of spiritual behaviors to lead to positive self-esteem; no healthy
parenting skills for raising their own children
Dawes Allotment Act of 1887
Tribal (communal) land divided into individual parcels: "excess" land opened
to white settlers
Termination and Relocation Policies of 1950s
Terminate tribal treaty status/empty the reservations by sending Indians to
cities, where they faced racism and poverty
Difficulties in mourning mass graves/massive group trauma
Their OWN country perpetrated the holocaust
Survivors have intense emotions: intense rage they must repress, which results
in psychic numbing
anxiety and impulsivity
depression, withdrawal and isolation and guilt
elevated mortality rates from heart disease, suicide and other forms of violent
perceived obligation to share in ancestral pain
survivors feel responsible to undo the tragic pain of the ancestral past, overly
protective of parents, preoccupied with death and persecution
Grief that persons experience when a loss cannot be openly acknowledged or
Indians have been portrayed by dominant culture as stoic, and without feelings.
Socially defined as incapable of grief, little recognition of their sense of
loss, need to mourn, o ability to do so. Message is that Indians have no need to
right to grieve.
Disenfranchised Grief results in an intensification of normative emotional
reactions such as anger, guilt, sadness and helplessness.
The absence of rituals to facilitate the mourning process can severely limit the
resolution of grief.
When a society disenfranchises the legitimacy of grief among any group, the
resulting intrapsychic function that inhibits the experience and expression of
grief effects, that is, sadness and anger, is shame.
Grief covered by shame negatively impacts relationships with self and others and
one's realization of the sacredness within oneself and one's community.
Further, European American culture legitimizes grief only for immediate nuclear
family in the current generation. This may also serve to disenfranchise the
grief of Native people over the loss of ancestors and extended kin as well as
animal relatives and traditional languages, songs and dances.
Traumatic history and racism play a significant role in depression.
Cognitive performance deteriorates over time in traumatized individuals.
Trauma in the Present
American Indians face repeated traumatic losses of relatives and community
members through alcohol-related accidents, homicides, and suicides. Deaths can
occur so frequently they leave people number. Domestic violence and child abuse
are frequent and add to the traumas of the past and fuel anguish and destructive
"New Age" imitations of traditional American Indian spiritual traditions is a
form of genocide.
Role and Impact of Alcohol
Little known prior to contact, alcohol used as a bargaining tool on
the American frontier. Role models for drinking behavior were usually
pathological and associated with violence. Drunken comportment became a learned
behavior for American Indians.
Alcoholism death rate is 5.5 times the national average.
Alcohol had a devastating effect on the health and morale of Indian people: with
the reservation system, a colonized people lost control of their land, culture
and way of life.
Indian alcohol abuse, a self-destructive act often associated with depression,
may be an outcome of internalized aggression, internalized oppression, and
unresolved grief and trauma.
Anger and aggression are acted out upon oneself and others like the self
(members of one's group); internalization of self-hatred as an outcome of
oppression and the danger of direct expression of anger toward the dominant
Identification with the Aggressor: anxiety in response to critical authority
figures; an individual incorporates the harshness of the aggressive authority
figure, which may be projected onto others with hostility.
Healing Historical Unresolved Grief
Learning and teaching tribal traditions and ceremonies; communal grief
rituals, storytelling; extended kin networks to support identity formation, a
sense of belonging, recognition of a shared history and survival of the group.
Emotional expression of pain decreases guilt and increases joy
Wiping the Tears
Reattachment to Native values
Development of healthy spirituality
individual, family and community healing
Once a people have been assaulted in a genocidal fashion, there are
psychological ramifications. With the victim's complete loss of power
comes despair, and the psyche reacts by internalizing what appears to be genuine
power--the power of the oppressor. The internalizing process begins when Native
American people internalize the oppressor, which is merely a caricature of the
power actually taken from Native American people. At this point, the
self-worth of the individual and/or group has sunk to a level of despair
tantamount to self-hatred. This self-hatred can be either internalized or
externalized. . . Research has demonstrated the grim reality of internalized
hatred result in suicide. . .Another way in which the internalized
self-hatred is manifested symptomatically is through the deaths of massive
numbers by alcoholism. When self-hatred is externalized, we encounter a level of
violence within the community that is unparalleled in any other group in
the country . . ." (Duran and Duran, 29)
The sense that you cannot grieve; that no one hears or is listening to your
grief; the dominant culture acts as if you do not have grief, or do not
need to grieve. See Lisa Poupart's essay.
Causes: a legacy of genocide, physical and cultural
Effects: unsettled trauma, unresolved grief, internalized oppression, alcohol,
child, sexual, and domestic abuse, depression, suicide
1. Education increases awareness of trauma
2. Sharing effects of trauma provides relief
3. Grief resolution through collective mourning/healing creates
positive group identity and commitment to community
Six Phases of Historical Unresolved Grief
1st Contact: life shock, genocide, no time for grief
Colonization: introduction of disease and alcohol, traumatic events such as
Wounded Knee Massacre
Economic Competition: sustenance loss (physical/spiritual)
Invasion/War Period: extermination, refugee symptoms
Subjugation/Reservation Period: confined/translocated, forced dependency on
oppressor, lack of security
Boarding School Period: destroyed family system
beatings, rape, prohibition of Native language and religion;
Lasting Effect: ill-prepared for parenting, identity confusion
Forced Relocation and Termination Period: transfer to urban areas,
prohibition of religious freedom
racism/viewed as second class; loss of governmental system and community
Holocaust Link: Jews and American Indians
Survivors' child complex
Disenfranchised grief Transposition
*fixation to trauma *loss cannot be openly *living in the
*attempts to resolve past mourned past & present
Clinical/Spiritual Healing: communal grief rituals: storytelling and
Ideas for Social Workers and Therapists: increase cultural
sensitivity--research personal historical trauma, attend community activities
**Education increases awareness of trauma
**Sharing effects provides relief
**Collective grief resolution creates positive group identity and commitment to