Native studies professor explains ‘historical trauma’

Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 5:55 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - Historical trauma, it’s a phrase you may not be familiar with, but Native Studies professors and intellectuals say that it’s an integral part of understanding the current state of indigenous communities in America.

Historical trauma, or generational trauma, is defined as the emotional harm related to major events that oppressed a particular group of people. The Lakota people, and Native Americans at large, say they have felt this trauma since European settlers first started arriving on the continent.

Jace DeCory is a Professor Emeritus of American Indian Studies at Black Hills State University, who taught native history for 33 years. She said that while several events have caused this trauma over the course of American history, the forced assimilation of Native children at Indian Boarding Schools has left a scar that can’t go unnoticed.

“Our people were subjugated to non-Native education and training. But it was really traumatic for many of our young people that went off to boarding schools that were ripped from their families and that had to be indoctrinated into non-Native ways.”

DeCory said that the poverty and hopelessness often seen in Native societies stems from genocidal actions perpetrated by settlers over the course of the United States’ existence, including the mass relocation of Native Americans to reservations.

“Being displaced from their traditional homelands really caused a disconnect in the way they view the world,” DeCory said. “The land is tied very closely between how a people look at themselves, their identity, and their philosophy and how they look at the world.”

Being involved in Native studies for three decades, DeCory is optimistic that people now can learn of this past trauma through Native education, and use it for the betterment of native communities, and society at large.

“I’m hoping and praying that young people will continue to know that they have a right to live a good life in which they can fulfill their dreams and their hopes and what they want to do in life.”

DeCory is concerned that the recent dialogue on ‘Critical Race Theory’ could prevent young people from learning about such historical atrocities. However, through all this, she’s optimistic that learning about the past -- can lead to a better future.

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