Historical Trauma and Cultural Healing
By Richard P. Holm, MD
Starting in 1805 through 1858 the Dakota Indian people living in Minnesota were, by U.S. government treaties, gradually cut out of their traditional hunting areas. In 1861, crops failed, winter was severe, meager federal payments were late and Dakota children were starving. By August of 1862, desperation moved some of the Dakota Indians to attack white homestead farmers and families and the state militia responded. War was on.
After six weeks of fighting the Dakota warriors surrendered and 303 men were sentenced to death by hanging. President Abraham Lincoln commuted many but left 38 Dakota men to hang in Mankato, Minnesota just after Christmas 1862. Those commuted were shipped to prison in Iowa where more than a third died as conditions were so poor.
Although many Indian people did not go to war, white hatred of all Indians grew like a prairie fire. Within a year, a $25 bounty was paid for the scalp of any Dakota Indian found free within the state. Lives were lost on both sides of that war, but the Dakota Oyate (Oyate means people) lost their lands and their culture. Pride and family traditions were severely compromised affecting many generations to come.
First introduced by mental health expert Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, Historical Trauma Response is a societal diagnosis now used by psychologists and historians. It refers to the cumulative, transgenerational, traumatic experience which causes long-lasting injury to communities, cultures and descendants, like that of the American Indian. Another example of HTR is the African American slave experience.
Experts state that HTR may cause smoldering animosity between groups as well as poverty, alcohol abuse, violence, depression and suicide behaviors. How can this be treated without compromising a culture’s traditions? Do ancestors of immigrant Europeans have a societal responsibility to right a wrong? Does smoldering animosity block the path to healing?
I believe prejudice hurts all of us. Hate poisons the well, even if it is “inherited hate” that came from more than 200 years of conflict and violence. It is time for European descendants to free ourselves from the bonds of historical bigotry and better understand the perspective of the Indian people. It is time for people of all races to stop hating and find ways for cultural healing through spiritual kindness to each other.
Lakota leader and mystic Black Elk said, “The bison were the gift of a good spirit . . . and from the same good spirit we must find another strength.”
Richard P. Holm, MD is founder of The Prairie Doc® and author of “Life’s Final Season, A Guide for Aging and Dying with Grace” available on Amazon. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc® library, visit www.prairiedoc.org and follow Prairie Doc® on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show streaming on Facebook and broadcast on SDPTV most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.