Historical Traumas Native Americans

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“My dream in life is that my children get enough education to find a job,” said Linda, a mother on the Shubenacadie First Nation reserve at Indian Brook. “I am pushing and pushing my kids to stay in school.” Adolescents in the reservation community struggle to remain in school, with drinking and fighting serving as temptations. Linda’s family lives on $1,700 a month. Most of their money goes towards food, but they often run short on necessities like bread and eggs. In order to feed her six young children, Linda will often skip meals. Their family home is sSpartan with ripped floor tiles and holes in the walls. No car sits in the driveway, and no phone rings in the hall. One son missed the opportunity to play hockey because equipment costs too much (Aikenhead). For many Native Americans on on reservations, dreams such as Linda’s are easier said than done.

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Inadequate living conditions and resources are common place on Indian reservations. Professor Mike Sharpe discussed how many reservations lack enough housing for their populations, often leading to three generations living in one home. The ramshackle, one-family homes tend to lack running water, sewage lines, and phone service. The problems of Natives Americans stretch farther than living conditions. Native Americans and Alaskan Natives s suffer from more health problems than any other group of Americans. These include the lowest life expectancy rate, the highest teenage pregnancy rate, the highest suicide rate, and the highest rates of heart disease, cancer, tuberculosis, HIV, rickets, obesity, and smoking in the United States (Sharpe). Specified individual and community addiction prevention programs as well as governmental aid for tribal colleges improves the lives of Native Americans living on reservations. The long nineteenth century, one that does not follow the same chronological patterns as the rest of U.S. history, encompasses the era of Indian Removal. Although Indian Removal official occured in the 1820s and 1830s, rumblings began long before and continued into the late 19th century and beyond (Ethridge). In the 1830s, the Trail of Tears saw the removal of 18,000 cherokee, Muskogee, and hundreds of other Indians from the Southeast to Oklahoma. Over 4,000 Cherokee died either on the journey, or in stockades. Several decades later, history repeated itself with The Long Walk in 1863. Over 8,000 Din© and Apache Indians were incarcerated at Fort Sumner, NM. Around 2,000 of them died. Each subsequent removal of Natives left them to rebuild without resources (Deschenie). These traumas forced on Native Americans in the 19th century continue to have lasting effects on Native American communities today.

The forcible removal of Natives continued into the 20th century with the displacement of Indian children from their homes. The government separated children from their families and communities, and placed them in special boarding schools (Deschenie). The United States Government’s early Native American education policy had three priorities: to teach the Indians to read, write, and speak English; to encourage individual identity as opposed to tribal identity; and to teach Christianity. To accomplish these goals, Native American boarding schools were established away from reservation to teach children not to be savages. In more recent years, The government, in a special provision of the No Child Left Behind Act, agreed that it possesses a legal responsibility for Indian education. Exactly what that legal responsibility entails remains uncertain, as over 150 different websites outline the provisions. Despite the government’s goal of bettering Native education, as of 2005 it was estimated that only 50.6 percent of Native American students graduated from high school, and they are the least likely ethnic group to attend college (Meza). The original Native American education policy influenced the future of Native American studies, and today the U.S. government holds a responsibility to the Native People for the cultural assimilation of the past.

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The horrible tragedies inflicted on Native Americans caused the rampant issues they face today. American Indian people suffer from historical trauma. In other words, the culmination of psychological and emotional wounding across generations led them to continue to exhibit the after affects of their ancestor’s pain. These experiences include those of one’s own life span as well as a those from massive groups of traumatic events. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, Phd explains that symptoms of historical trauma include survivor guilt, trauma, anger, depression, and self destructive behavior. Most natives removed from their homelands never returned, leaving communities forever shattered. U.S. Government policy led to the Native American Genocide and the Natives received no response group aid in its wake, leaving them unable to rebuild and prosper (Deschenie). Other groups, such as Jewish people in the wake of the Holocaust, experience historical trauma.

Native Americans and Native Alaskans are the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States. With large influxes of American Indians to New York City, and already large populations in Los Angeles the majority of America’s three million Natives live in cities. However, a significant population still resides on reservations, in traditional ethnic situations. As a result of the historical trauma suffered by Native Americans, current populations, specifically on reservations, suffer high rates of insufficiencies. Thirty-nine percent of Native Americans on reservations live below the poverty line. The defined poverty line is based on outdated statistics from 1955, meaning with modern numbers a far higher percentage of natives would be considered living in poverty (Sharpe). As a result of the traumas Native Americans suffered in the past, at the hand of the U.S. Government, the government has a responsibility to the Native people today.

Despite the federal government determining a specific responsibility for aiding Native Americans, the populations suffer rates of disparity far higher than the national average. According to Mike Sharpe, unemployment rates reach 50 to 80% on some reservations, with the overall Native rates reaching two times the national average. Further limiting the people’s ability to escape poverty is a lack of education. Reservations have the highest teacher turnover rates in the country due to underfunding. This lack of reliant educational figures causes a spike in high school dropouts. Thirty percent of Native Americans do not finish high school. Those who do are unlikely to continue onto secondary education. Only thirteen percent of Native Americans obtain a B.A. degree, compared to the United States average of thirty-eight percent (Sharpe). Low graduation rates, and subsequent lack of secondary education, contribute to the cycle of self-destructive behaviors and poverty seen often on reservations.

The next generation of Native Americans are being monitored to determine what effects historical trauma and poverty have on their performance. A major public health concern among Native Americans is alcohol abuse. Testing on 5,000 samples with 95% confidence intervals was completed to determine if the effects of Native American cultural identification and family socialization mechanism have simultaneous outcomes. The results indicate that Native American adolescents initiate alcohol use earlier than other populations. Compared to 13.8% of non-native adolescents, 17.4% of Native American eighth graders reported drinking at least once. The group also reported significantly higher rates of binge-drinking in the 8th and 10th grade than the national average. Results also indicated a high perception of familial identification. 3.01 out of 4 reported indicating that Native Americans who live in or around reservations follow cultural traditions. In addition, these groups saw high levels of family communication about alcohol (Urbaeva). Results such as these show that higher family and community involvement have a positive impact on Native American adolescents.

A second study, lead by Jamie Jaramillo,furthers these results by examining the relationship between academic achievement and hopelessness. In a sample of 129 Native American adolescents aged 14-19, those with high ethnic identities and low stereotype threat scores reported higher GPA’s. Higher levels of hopelessness were reported in those who reported higher levels of perceived discrimination (Jaramillo). To prevent underage drinking in California Indian Reservations, a project requested by leaders of sovereign Tribal nations began. The study used individual and community level prevention strategies to reduce and prevent underage drinking. In groups of 15 year old Natives, a 25% overall relative decline in pre to post-intervention mean frequency of drinking was observed (Moore). These results indicate a correlation between cultural identity and reduced substance abuse that can assist in developing substance abuse solutions.

“When you’re young, it’s all about trying to fit in with friends, and this gets you in a lot of trouble,” said Shiena, a young mother on the Shubenacadie First Nation reserve and Linda’s eldest daughter. “Drinking and fighting are big things.” She is discussing the many temptations on reservations that draw children away from school. Shiena says she will talk to her children about poverty and how hard work can lead someone out of its intergenerational trap (Aikenhead). Native Americans continue to suffer from historical trauma. The repercussions of the Native American Removal and subsequent attempts at assimilation cast negative effects on current and future generations.

Native American reservations have struggled to move into the modern era. In a journal for the American Indian Quarterly, Larry Nesper wrote about the current situation of tribal courts. Tribal courts currently in development among more than 560 federally recognized tribes exercise a wide range of civil and criminal jurisdiction. The civil and criminal jurisdiction of tribal courts include dealing with child welfare, natural resource use issues, ethics violation by government officials, and family law. The tribal courts serve as crucial aspects in tribal sovereignty, however the name itself is paradoxical. The complications in development are due to a need for both internal and external legitimacy which tie back to the question of national responsibility. If the tribes move towards the legitimacy of tribal courts the traditional organization by kinship of tribes will be lost (Nesper). Despite the seeming paradoxical ideas of tribal courts, they appear to be the best option in bringing reservations into the twenty-first century.

If the development of tribal courts continues, they can use their jurisdiction over tribal welfare and family law to combat suicide. A major health concern in Native American communities is suicide among American Indian and Alaska Native youth. The pitfalls Shiena mentioned easily develop into suicidal actions. For example, common risk factors of Native American youth suicide include alcohol and substance abuse, access to lethal means, physical or sexual abuse, and impulsivity (Fitzgerald). The Native American community are known to have higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse, among other health issues. The continuous effects of abuse and suicidal actions create a cycle that threatens to bring Native youths further into poverty.

In an attempt to further develop Native tribes and to bring them out of poverty, tribal gaming operations have been allowed. These operations create tourism and allow for tribes and tribal governments to continue outside of isolation. Due to mixed reviews of the casinos, tribes have begun to pay notable attention to the effects of tribal gaming. The recent expansion of legalized gaming in the United States included the expansion of Native American casino operations. With this expansion a concern over the impacts of gaming on local environment has grown. Several positive economic and environmental effects can be seen in response to gaming operations. These include an increase in employment opportunities, and new investments in communities. Despite the economic and environmental benefits of tribal gaming operations, few physical benefits were seen. Native Americans living near a tribal casino reported that NACs fail to provide opportunities for social interaction. Many also responded with mixed feeling about the supposed opportunities for cultural education and improved recreation (Chhabra). The NACs posses the opportunity to reduce Native American poverty rates, however further actions must be taken to meet the needs and to address all possible concerns of those on surrounding reservations.

Many of the Native American students who continue on to higher education attend tribal colleges. In a research study completed by Fort Peck Community College, researchers found high rates of alcohol and drug abuse among the tribal adult population and indications of one-third of the middle school student body experiencing involvement in an incident of violence.

A separate survey by the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe found significant rates of family violence substance abuse histories. The source also found close to 30% of those surveyed had previously considered attempting suicide. Results such as these indicate hopelessness, but the underground support system created at tribal colleges is a ray of hope (Ambler). Tribal colleges and supports at home work to keep Native American students in school, helping to better their lives and communities.

Today’s tribal colleges utilise strategies reliant on culture, spirituality, and community. These minority specific institutions see an underground support system for their students. This combined system used by tribal colleges is beneficial to Native American students (Ambler). Increased funding of tribal college programs would allow for a higher percentage of Native American students to receive a higher education. Once more students receive an education, the Native American community will continue to tackle violence and self destructive behaviors.

In addition to tackling self-destructive behaviors in schools, these patterns can be broken at home. High rates of alcohol and substance abuse in the home create a cycle between generations. However, family socialization and identical with Native American culture serve as important aspects in improvement. These steps go together to create alcohol-prevention programs. In a study led by Dr. Roland S. Moore, tribal youths experienced individual level intervention to reduce underage drinking. These interventions included motivational interviewing and psychoeducation. The results showed that individual level intervention improved the level of underage drinking among the Native populations tested (Moore). Studies and results such as this indicate that an increase in individual level intervention among Native American groups aids in preventing self-destructive behaviors.

Community level prevention programs also help in creating positive change within Native American communities. In the same study by Moore, community level intervention was completed through restricted sale of alcohol to minors, community awareness activities, and community mobilization (Moore). Actions such as these show the current period of change in tribal communities as Native Americans focus on addiction recovery, regaining culture, and community development (Coyhis). In an attempt to raise community awareness about risks of underage substance abuse, community mobilization provides informational materials and discussions on underage alcohol use (Moore). The Wellbriety Movement created by Coyhis, a member of the Mohican Nation and a former alcoholic, focuses on a community and cultural specific path to recovery. In the program, recovery is based on four main laws: change is from within, for development to occur, it must be preceded by a vision, a great learning must take place, and you must create a healing forest (Coyhis). Results from Moore’s study and the information provided by the Wellbriety Movement, indicate multi-level prevention programs with a focus on community and cultural support effectively work to reduce destructive behaviors in tribal populations. Increased practice of programs like these will work continue to improve the current Native American problem.

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As the world continues to move into the future, Native American tribes face the risk of being left in the past. Individual and community level prevention programs need to be implemented. Without these, high rates of poverty, addiction, and self-destructive behaviors will continue to haunt Native American communities. Tribal colleges also require increased funding. If an increased percentage Native American students receive a higher education, the reservation communities will prosper. It is easy to push our responsibility for Native Americans to the side. It easily slides to the backburner of the mind. However, Native Americans are the history of America. They possess ancient ties to U.S. lands. Tribes persevered through endless tragedy, but today they face the effects of historical trauma. After everything, they deserve these simple methods of aid. If the responsibility fails to be undertaken, the Native American population and U.S. reservations may fail to exist.

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Historical Traumas Native Americans. (2019, Dec 30). Retrieved November 30, 2022 , from
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