Dina Gilio-Whitaker: Healing from colonization of indigenous peoples

Dina Gilio-Whitaker. Photo from about.me

Dina Gilio-Whitaker, a member of the Colville Tribes, looks toward healing as a common way of addressing the harmful impacts of colonization in the United States:
As Native people we are no strangers to grief. Profound grief. With a growing literature on historical trauma, we have clearer understandings about how the political realities of colonization have affected us on the individual level. We can, for example, understand addiction as individual responses to trauma, rather than a pathological inability to adjust to a world that was thrust upon us without our consent, as it has historically been framed.

Perhaps the first writers to theorize colonization in terms of post-traumatic stress were the psychologists Duran and Duran in their 1995 book Native American Postcolonial Psychology. They helped us to understand that mental illness in Native America cannot be separated from the history of genocide, the loss of land and culture, and the forced breakup of families. And that as strange and sad as it may sound, some of the social problems we see today in Indian country like addiction and suicide could even be seen as rational responses to profound loss.

Further complicating mainstream theories on Indian maladjustment to the modern world, the research on intergenerational trauma increasingly points to evidence that such trauma may be genetically inherited. This would mean that the genetic inheritance of trauma is not limited to the experience of indigenous peoples with colonization, but to other groups who have experienced profound oppression or loss. This would include African-Americans who were forcibly taken out of their homelands and brutally enslaved for centuries, and Jews whose ancestors survived the Holocaust. It could even apply to other groups who have suffered extreme loss. Even European settlers and immigrants.

I know what you’re thinking—that settlers are the ones who gained everything as a result of indigenous loss. Not only that, but that they are the people who continue to benefit the most from the colonial system we live in, which includes every kind of privilege that structures a hierarchical, class-based society. And you are right. The structural inequities are immense and the work it’s going to take to balance centuries of injustice to indigenous peoples will take generations. But please bear with me as I try to shed a slightly different light on our collective U.S. American society.

Get the Story:
Dina Gilio-Whitaker: Healing Unresolved Grief in Indigenous & Settler Societies (Indian Country Today 8/1)

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