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Historical Trauma

July 2, 2010

As Chugachmiut began to look at the ACES results, one fact becomes clear for those of us involved in the health care and social services field. There are a plethora of unresolved historical and family perpetrated traumas in our Tribal communities. As an attorney in Alaska for over 31 years, I am often puzzled about why very bright and talented Native people (and other ethnic populations as well) fall victim to behaviors that are very risky and detrimental to their health, their family, their relationships and often to their freedom. I am talking about behaviors like substance abuse, promiscuity, domestic and other violence. Approximately 39% of our prison population in Alaska consists of Alaska Natives, who are only 19% of the total population. STD rates are extremely high among our Native population, as are drop out rates, teen pregnancy, suicide attempts and successes, along with an abundance of other negative outcomes in chronic health diseases. Many researchers have concluded that Historical Trauma is a primary cause of these negative outcomes. Dr. Eduardo Duran, a clinical psychologist, has written about “Healing the Soul Wound.” Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart has been thinking and writing about Historical Trauma since the 1980’s. The central premise behind Historical Trauma is the unresolved grief from centuries of loss.

Researchers do make it clear that many Native people have resolved their grief and are faring very well. They have great relationships, wonderfully adjusted families, satisfying and fulfilling careers and enjoy life and many of its benefits. I try to make this point when I am speaking about people who are experiencing negative outcomes in their lives. We have successful tribal members and families, and we need to celebrate their success.

But for many, Historical Trauma seems to have entered into a path of intergenerational transfer. Grandparents who had unresolved trauma chose coping methods that have unintended, but almost certain, consequences. This trauma passes on to their children who eventually have their own children, and the trauma passes to the third and subsequent generations.

Some of the risky coping behaviors we adopt invite negative consequences earlier than others. The story in the Anchorage Daily News during the week of June 20 titled “Hooked: One Addicts Story,” demonstrates how quickly one individuals fall can happen. For others, it may not happen until the later stages of life.

Chugachmiut’s Restoration to Health strategy is centered around a commitment by THIS generation (parents and grandparents) to make this the last generation to suffer the pain of Historical Trauma as passed down through generational transfer. By understanding the impact of ACE’s on our development, we can resolve to heal our own childhood inflicted trauma(s), and learn how to avoid passing them on to our children. If they are passed on to our children, we can choose to intervene quickly and provide supportive therapies to help our children heal quickly and avoid the adoption of risky coping behaviors.

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