Beverly Cook: The toxic effect of stress on American Indians
Posted: Thursday, November 3, 2011
"We know that acts of genocide were perpetrated on our people because we refused to be separated from our lands. Tremendous harm was done by those who would prevent us from speaking or learning our language; by those who would prevent us from practicing our ancient rituals, our healing and doctoring ceremonies, our celebrations, our condolences. The spiritual cloak that was our shield from unrelenting grief and loss from one generation to another was torn from us leaving us vulnerable to what science now calls “over-activation of our fight or flight response” and “toxic stress.” Though we are now relatively free to practice our ancient ways, the trauma has not stopped and many of our people have drifted far from ceremonial circles.
Our old ones passed down to us the stories of our beginnings. Our Creation story described where we came from, how we arrived here and gave instructions on how to conduct our ceremonies and be grateful. Our old grandmas and grandpas told stories that taught about life and the most important ones centered around the behavior and care of our children and pregnant women and the responsibilities of their partners. Nothing says that we can’t incorporate those teachings in health care and then remind our patients why it makes sense. (Remember some of our people had little exposure to the old ways.)
Research is showing that stress and traumatic events experienced by an unborn baby in the womb through the mom and during early childhood can alter the genetic makeup of the fetus and child. These altered genes can have adverse impact on their health in the future. To start these babies may grow to be prone to depression and more reactive to stress or less stress resilient. Researchers are also finding that some of these altered genes are passed on to the next generation. In the past this mechanism was crucial for the survival of the species during times of extreme environmental changes on the planet."
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Beverly Cook: The Toxic Effects of Stress on American Indians
(Indian Country Today 11/1)
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