Understanding Historical Trauma

Understanding Historical Trauma: How American Indian Communities Are Changing the Legacy is the subject under discussion on Friday January 20th in Boulder as part of the monthly Interface series which happens on the 3rd Friday of every month at the Naropa campus in North Boulder.

This month, Elicia Goodsoldier will discuss historical, intergenerational trauma and its impact on successive generations of Native Americans.

“Historical trauma is the cumulative emotional and psychological wounding of individuals, or of a group, or a generation that has been caused by traumatic events or traumatic experiences. Intergenerational trauma is that trauma that gets passed from generation to generation. So when we look at Native communities, in particular, you can almost bet that all of the Native people that are living today, are living with that historical trauma and that intergenerational trauma and each generation has experienced its own sort of trauma.”

Goodsoldier says that historical trauma is compounded by ongoing oppression experienced by Native Americans.  “There are so many parallels that you can draw from the experiences at Standing Rock, and the historical experiences that our ancestors have experienced. One of the things that I heard from an elder at Standing Rock, said, “150 years ago they were taking our children from the land, and today they’re taking the land from our children”, and so, to me, that said a lot, that we’re not past all of these, this historical trauma or the traumas that we experience day to day.”

Having been a former board member of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, she has seen how trauma from the forced removal of Native children from their homes into these schools has impacted successive generations. The boarding schools started in the early 1800s as a way for the United States government to forcibly assimilate Native Americans by taking Native children from their home, from their culture, from their families, and putting them in the boarding schools.

By the turn of the turn of the century, it’s been estimated that over 100 thousand Native children were forcefully removed from their homes and taken to these boarding schools.

“There was lots of abuse that occurred physically, emotionally, sexually, that occurred within the schools. Children didn’t grow up with their language or their customs, their traditions, their spirituality, and many of them, if they came home, brought back a lot of the destructive behaviors that they learned at the school, and many were ashamed of their Indian-ness, I guess you could say.”

Goodsoldier says there have been efforts in Colorado to help heal the trauma experienced by Native Americans.

“I think one of the very first things is to acknowledge the history and to acknowledge the trauma. I always use Gov. Hickenlooper’s apology for the Sand Creek Massacre as an example of beginning that healing. Cheyenne and Arapahoe people had waited 150 years for somebody to acknowledge that atrocity, acknowledge that trauma…And I believe that a return to our culture, our language, our spirituality is also one of those ways that we can begin that healing…One of the reasons I do these talks is so people begin to understand, and hope that these event or these traumatic events that got us to this place will never happen again…people being able to openly sit and listen and hear the experiences and understand why things in our community exist the way they do.”


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Goodsoldier is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and also belongs to the Spirit Lake Dakota tribe. She Co-Chairs the Denver American Indian Commission and recently completed an appointment to the Governor’s Commission to Study American Indian Representations in Public Schools. She sits on the Cultural Competency Advisory Council for the Colorado Department of Human Services, Division of Behavioral Health. She is the program coordinator for PERL (People Engaged in Raising Leaders), a program under the Community Action Programs, Boulder County.

She will speak on Friday January 20th as part of the monthly Interface series at the Naropa north Boulder campus.

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    Understanding Historical Trauma KGNU News




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