To better understand historical trauma, think about boarding schools – which are one source of trauma still affecting Native youth today. Starting during the late 1800’s and lasting through the mid 1900’s, many of our grandparents and great grandparents were forced to attend government-run Indian boarding schools. At boarding schools, our family members were not allowed to speak their language, practice their beliefs, and learn their stories and tribal history. Many of our elders were emotionally and physically abused at the boarding schools. They were told that our traditions and way of life were bad and that they should try to change themselves to be more like other Americans.
Our elders were traumatized by this experience and some passed the trauma on to their children and grandchildren, but not on purpose and not consciously. For example, some of our elders who were forced to attend boarding school began drinking as adults to forget the abuses and cope with the pain and anger. This impacted their spouses and their children. Others continued to abuse their family members as they were abused.
Many Native youth still carry this historical, multi-generational trauma with them today. How many of us know other young people who drink or use drugs? How many of us know someone who is abusive because someone in their life abuses them? How many of us have not felt good about ourselves when we hear people say a racist comment or stereotype?
The challenge is learning how to heal from this historical, multi-generational trauma.