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Community Conversations: Historical Trauma: Three Views, Part Two


Photo 1: Mathers Museum of World Cultures/Flickr
Cheyenne woman Jennie Red Robe with her child.
 Location: Crow Reservation, Montana
Date: 1909
Photo 2: John Tewell
A black family at the Hermitage Plantation, Savannah, Georgia, USA, about 1907
Photo 3: Marion Doss/Flickr
Prisoners in the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, Germany, December 19, 1938.


Last time on Community Conversations, we introduced the theory of historical trauma. It was developed in the 1980s by Native American social worker and mental health expert Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart to explain the whole constellation of symptoms a family, community or a people experience in reaction to traumatic events.

America is a country that, like it or not, is steeped in historical trauma.  From the genocide of Native Americans to the enslavement of African Americans right on through the experience of Holocaust survivors in this country, the aftershocks remain.

For many European Americans, though, this idea is counter-intuitive.  Accustomed to the idea of “bootstrapping” one’s self out of any difficulty in life and having more often been perpetrators of historical trauma as opposed to the objects of it, they’re more inclined to meet the theory with a scornful “get over it.”

But recent studies on the science behind intergenerational trauma suggest that people can’t just “get over” these experiences – the trauma is on their genes and can actually be passed down to each new generation.

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