Community Conversations: Historical Trauma: Three Views, Part One

Aug 1, 2016

Photo 1: Mathers Museum of World Cultures/Flickr
Crow Woman and Child, Location: Crow Reservation, Montana
Photo 2: elycefeliz/Flickr
Photo 3: Raymund Flandez/Flickr
A Jewish woman walks towards the gas chambers with three young children after going through the selection process on the ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The theory of historical trauma 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.

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 according to an article at Ozy.comIt has been scientifically proven that survivors of Canada’s residential schools can’t just “get over” the experience — because it’s in their genes. Recent studies on the science behind intergenerational trauma — between Holocaust survivors and their children, for instance — have discovered that trauma can be passed between generations. Chemical tags acting like Post-its can latch onto our DNA, switching genes off and on. A research team at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital led by Rachel Yehuda, a leading expert on post-traumatic stress and epigenetics, concluded that some of these tags could be transferred across generations.”

Our guests this evening include a member of the local Native American community, the African-American community and the Jewish community, all populations who have been affected by historical trauma in one way or another and are still struggling to understand it, how it manifests itself, and where they go from here.

You can read the complete interview with Sr. Katherine Baltazar here.