Healing Intergenerational Historical Trauma by samarys seguinot medina
Vi Waghiyi at the United Nations.
In the last edition I talked about Intergenerational Historical Trauma (IHT) and how it affects the individual, his or her community and future generations. Minority, indigenous people, and communities of color are the most affected by colonization, racism, and intolerance. This has created a trauma that has passed from one individual to another, collectively affecting communities and it is perpetuated from generation to generation. In recent weeks we have seen the topic of boarding schools on social media after mass graves with the bones of 215 child victims of this system were discovered in Canada. Following this finding, the federal government of the United States said that will investigate Native American boarding schools in Nevada and possibly other states in the US. It is here where we realize the great need, and at the same time, the opportunity to talk about this type of trauma.
I decided to talk and listen to IHT’s stories and healing experiences from Alaska Native and Native American women who are leaders in environmental justice and health. I asked them about their IHT’s healing process. According to Vi Waghiyi, grandmother and justice and environmental health leader from Savoonga, Sivuqaq Island in the Bering Sea, what helped her in her process was understanding and accepting that she did nothing wrong, that those who made fun of her when young were the ones who were acting bad and not her. Vi tells me that her culture is based on love. That the health and well-being of all is the greatest strength of her community. She thus recognized that those who despised her were sick and were only projecting themselves. It is then that she discovered that their misbehavior was a disease and not hers. Since they needed to humiliate and mistreat others to feel important, in power and accepted. Vi says: “Now, what helps me heal my IHT is studying and recovering my native language, being with my people, recognizing that we need to recover all our values and practices, our identity and way of life so that we can prosper. It is important that we get that back. Set an example for my children and grandchildren and continue speaking my truth to transform systems of oppression. In this way society can learn to appreciate and value my people and our culture.”
For Margaret Yellow Wolf Tarrant, Mandan / Hidatsa, mother, and environmental justice organizer, some of the ways to heal IHT are by removing herself and her children from toxic environments, breaking cycles of physical, sexual, emotional, and mental abuse. Margaret says: “It is extremely important to create safe spaces to be able to have honest conversations about these experiences, especially to create spaces for dialogue for the youngest.” Karen Nguyen is a proud grandmother, environmental leader, and tribal citizen of Savoonga, Sivuqaq. She says for true healing we must acknowledge the feelings that came out of trauma and own it, work on forgiveness and then you move forward and tell yourself to be positive every day. Doing positive affirmations is important. Karen says, “people normally don’t own it and suppressed it and that doesn’t work. Forgiveness is hard to do sometimes, but it is something that would definitely help you heal and recover. For me forgiveness is a very important part of healing.”
For me, as a Boricua and environmental health & justice advocate, some of the things that have helped me to heal are knowing my true story, talking about my healing process and experiences of growth with others, sharing resources and creating spaces to help others to understand and heal their trauma. Other ways to heal are talking to my elders and asking for their guidance, maintaining my connection with nature, practicing making my traditional food, speaking my mother tongue, and listening and sharing the traditional music of my archipelago. Finally, demand from our governments and governance systems resources, promotion and subsidy of programs, and assistance to continue this dialogue at all levels and in all spheres.
Dr. Samarys Seguinot Medina is Boricua, director of environmental health at Alaska Community Action on Toxics and a resident of Anchorage, Alaska.
Margaret and Brooklyn.
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