“We continue to address the impacts of alcohol and other drugs, youth suicides, domestic violence and the list continues. However, now is the time to address the source of these symptoms—historical and inter-generational trauma.”
—Tribal leader, White House Tribal Nations Conference, 2014
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As Native American Heritage month comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the tremendous work American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) tribes have done to improve the quality of life for tribal youth, families, and communities.All people have biological and psychological characteristics that make them vulnerable to, or resilient in the face of, potential behavioral health issues. Effective prevention strategies focus on identifying these characteristics, reducing the risk factors, and strengthening protective factors.
The Impact of Historical and Intergenerational Trauma on American Indian and Alaska Native Communities
Trauma not only effects those who directly experience it, but also those in the generations that follow. Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart describes historical trauma as the “cumulative emotional and psychological wounding across generations, including the lifespan, which emanates from massive group trauma.”
The span of one generation is not a long time. In fact, an American Indian or Alaska Native (AI/AN) who is over the age of 30 is only one generation removed from the “boarding school era.” During this era, many AI/AN children were removed from their homes, families, and communities and forced to assimilate to the culture and practices of the majority population. These experiences caused a ripple effect of intergenerational trauma throughout Indian Country.
Generation Indigenous, or Gen-I, as it is known in Indian Country, is an initiative aimed at improving the lives of Native youth by removing the barriers standing between them and their opportunity to success. Introduced by President Obama at the Tribal Nations Conference in December 2014, Gen-I was inspired by the President’s visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Nation the previous June.
July is Minority Mental Health Month. During this month, we focus on raising awareness about how mental health and substance use issues affect ethnic minority groups. I am writing as an intern at the Division of Prevention, Traumatic Stress, and Special Programs, at the Center for Mental Health Services at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). I am also a member of the Rosebud Sioux and Oglala Sioux Tribes.