Understanding Historical Trauma: Presenter Elicia Goodsoldier

“Understanding Historical Trauma” is a unique experiential training that takes a look at the affects Historical Trauma has had on American Indians.

Together, we will explore why American Indian communities see higher rates of suicide, alcoholism and violence than the rest of the country. We will also explore what we can do to create change and heal from our past.

It is important for us to have an understanding of the past, and how trauma and its effects can be passed on from one generation to the next. Until we are able to understand and heal, we will be unable to change the legacy .

About the Presenter: Elicia Goodsoldier is from the Dine’/Spirit Lake Dakota nations. Previous to working for Mental Health Partners in Boulder, CO, she worked for the Oglala Sioux Tribe-Suicide Prevention Project. She brings a wealth of knowledge in regards to how tribal communities address mental health issues utilizing spiritual and cultural practices. Her knowledge of Historical Trauma comes from her work with Wakanyeja Pawicayapi Inc (The Children First) in Porcupine, SD and Oglala Lakota healers and elders.

Elicia Goodsoldier Writes:

Most people I encounter in the mental health field have very little or no knowledge of historical trauma.  Before moving to Colorado in June of 2009, I worked on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota. The Oglala Lakota people of this Reservation have, over the last couple hundred of years, endured what most would identify as cultural extermination. Lakota history has been a traumatic one.  Shannon County (where Pine Ridge is located) is considered the poorest county in the nation. Oglala Lakota people suffer from psychosocial problems such as extremely high rates of alcoholism, suicide, violence and unemployment.  Close to 35% of Native deaths occur before 45 years of age. One shocking study done on the youth of Pine Ridge several years ago revealed that at least 8 in 10 children on the Pine Ridge have been sexually abused at least once in their life! Through my work, I can absolutely say now, that I am not surprised by this statistic. These modern psychosocial problems are superimposed on a background of historically traumatic losses across generations.  The historical losses of Lakota people have met the United Nations definition of genocide. The effects of Historical Trauma on our Native people often manifests itself in depression, self-destructive behavior, suicidal thoughts and gestures, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger, and difficulty recognizing and expressing emotions.  Reactions also include substance abuse, which is often an attempt to self-medicate to avoid painful feelings. This historical trauma is passed on across generations, if there is no spiritual intervention. A component of historical trauma includes communal historical trauma such as massacres and boarding school experiences. Traditional Lakota culture encourages maintenance of a connection with the spirit world. Thus, we are predisposed to identification with ancestors from our historical past. Traditional mourning such as cutting our hair became an expression of a felt loss with the death of a close relative. Grief was impaired due to massive losses across generations and the federal government’s prohibition of traditional practices. Hence, our impaired grief and our inclination for connection with our ancestors fueled historical unresolved grief, another component of the historical trauma response. It is important for people to recognize the dark chapters in Indigenous history and the first step in healing is the validation of those traumatic events. It’s an unfortunate thing when schools, today, still teach the inaccurate history of Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Caribbean, without a doubt, opened up the indigenous population of North America to untold misery, suffering and death. And of course, few in America realize that the first official Thanksgiving Proclamation after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock was not about celebrating a bountiful harvest. In fact, the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony proclaimed an official day of feasting to give thanks and honor to the men of the colony who returned safely after having massacred over 700 Pequot Indian men, woman and children. When we deny the truth of our history (and I don’t just mean Indigenous history but OUR history), we deny ourselves the ability to heal. It was this that made me realize we aren’t so different and our own traumas all have the same effect. But most importantly, we all have an innate ability to heal.

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  1. Alexis Miles

    This was a powerful event and a model for how future community conversations can happen.

  2. I am so sorry I missed this! I just learned about this organization at the talk by Tom DeWolf and Belvie Rooks at Naropa on Thursday: http://www.inheritingthetrade.com

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