Transcending Historical Trauma


“Myself, I’m one of the generations. My mother is one of the generations, wandering out there in alcoholism, and death, and murder, and domestic violence, and thinking there's no way out. Well, there is a way out... Like I tell my children, my grandchildren, ‘You don't have to walk that road of alcoholism and drug addiction. I walked that road. I took all those beatings for you guys. You don't have to walk that road.’

-  Verna Bartlett, Ph.D., Native American elder and sexual abuse survivor

Looking back at the past few centuries of America’s westward expansion, we can witness a long history of cataclysmic events inflicted upon generations of American Indians. Our country’s growth was at the expense of the continent’s indigenous peoples who suffered genocide, dislocation, and other unspeakable patterns of violence on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels.

The adverse effects of this history carried down from generation to generation are known as historical trauma. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, widely regarded as the “mother of historical trauma” by Native Americans, describes historical trauma as the cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over one's lifetime and from generation to generation following loss of lives, land and vital aspects of culture.

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About the Lessons

The accompanying lessons use several strategies designed to help you find the direction and strength to live a life of personal wellness. Before you begin, spend some time exploring our website and become familiar with these strategies. Take time to learn about the Sacred Circle and the Hero's Journey. Both are frameworks that will help you to organize your thoughts and actions, and will help you in your life journey. Finally, review the section on Historical Trauma in order to better understand how the life history of your ancestors may have influenced your own life.

Discovering Our Story is a collaborative project of Wisdom of the Elders, Inc.
and several Portland, Oregon area partners that serve our Native American community.

Native American Rehabilitation Association (NARA)
Cowlitz Indian Tribe Health & Social Services, Vancouver WA
Lewis and Clark College's Indigenous Ways of Knowing Program (IWOK)
Northwest Indian Storytellers Association (NISA)
The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA)
Portland State University's Native American Studies Program
Westview  High School English to Students of Other Languages (ESOL) Program
Roger Burt, Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant
and Portland Community Media.