Historical Trauma (Part 2): Myaamia Perspective on Healing

As we approach the 175th commemoration of Myaamia Removal and community members reflect on our shared history, it is likely that many community members will experience significant emotional responses. In Historical Trauma (part 1) I discussed at length the Historical Trauma (HT) response; if you have not yet read that article, I recommend you go back and take a look before proceeding with this post. Here in part 2, I will discuss the ways our community understands health and healing as well as share some of the methods for coping with the HT response.

Strengths-Based Perspective of HT

As I mentioned in a post back in August, a strengths-based perspective to living well for Myaamiaki tends to help us in establishing sustainable and holistic growth as a community. It is our goal in thinking about healing from HT to move beyond asking “why do I feel so bad about this?” which takes a deficit-approach and keeps us living in the past traumas. Rather, we hope to ask one another “what happened to us and how did we maintain resilience throughout those experiences?” This revised question allows us to simultaneously acknowledge and center our stories and also affirm the incredible resilience we have always possessed. We already have the tools and wisdom as a community to be able to live well.

“Healing” from a Myaamia Perspective

Before we are able to talk about how to cope with HT from a strengths-based perspective, it is also important to acknowledge and describe what “healing” even means for Myaamiaki. While we live in diaspora, we are all connected to one another through our shared experiences, values, knowledge system, cultural practices, and much more. These connections can be metaphorically represented by myaamiaki atahsapimawaali ‘Myaamia community web’ that is made up of individual, but connected ropes. Each of those ropes represents the individual strength of a community member, and also depends on the connections between those ropes to form a community experience.

Participants stand in a circle holding twine thread during the "community web" activity which creates a network of thread in the open center
2019 Eemamwiciki Summer Program attendees participate in a “Community Web” activity.
Photo by Jonathan M. Fox

So, to understand the impact of past events on our individual lives, we use the concepts of keehkaapiikasici ‘breaking’ and neehaapiikasici ‘mending’ of those individual ropes as a way to define a process for life maintenance. Everyone at some point in their life experiences discomfort or an event that causes pain and distress, weakening that rope. This could be an illness, death, an action that caused someone harm, or a decision that intentionally or unintentionally causes self pain. The result can be a number of physical or emotional outcomes that can be linked to the event. When something happens in our lives that creates significant distress, we refer to it as masaana keehkaapiikinaki ‘I break (my thread)’. When we engage in a process of healing we refer to it as masaana neehaapiikinaki ‘I mend (my thread)’. The threads are the individual components that make up an individual’s rope. Breaking and mending are actions that require recognition, reflection, and a response. Collectively, these culturally relevant metaphorical expressions link us back to the nimasaanaapiikoma ‘my rope’ and the context for my role within myaamiaki atahsapimawaali ‘Myaamia community web’.

Mending a single thread within one’s rope can also help to support other ropes that may have been weakened over time. Therefore, life is viewed as a process of constant breaking and mending necessary for keeping the individuals who make up a community strong. This model does not attempt to describe the causes of breaks in individual threads, or behaviors that can cause breaking, but rather focuses on what individual and communal strengths contribute to the process of mending for Myaamiaki. It is crucial to understand what contributes to and maintains the strength of one’s rope so that regardless of the cause of the breakage, Myaamiaki have the capacity to maintain strength of the web over time.

Community Healing from HT

The following are the tools derived from our unique way of understanding the world that Myaamiaki have always possessed to deal with the breaking and mending process. There is no single practice or component that helps us manage trauma or other experiences of breaking, but rather a combination of many practices can set the stage for mending. Here, I will discuss a few of those options that have been shown to help particularly with Historical Trauma within Indigenous communities generally, and Myaamiaki specifically.

Increase Awareness

The first practice is increasing awareness of the effects of Historical Trauma on our individual lives and the community as a whole. That first step is through educating ourselves on what the effects of Historical Trauma can look like. So, if you already read part 1 of this post, you have begun this step! However, you do not have to stop there. Feel free to reach out (to me or other folks at the Myaamia Center) for additional resources on Historical Trauma if you are interested in continuing to learn more. 

Another component to increase our awareness is recognizing our own personal and communal experiences. Many people want to push away, ignore, or minimize the feelings that they have in response to trauma. After all, nobody likes feeling such negative emotions and revisiting painful memories. However, one powerful tool for managing trauma experiences is telling our personal stories. Thankfully, storytelling is naturally built into our cultural practices. However, these communal narratives will best be supplemented by personal and familial stories of shared traumas that are not necessarily told on a communal level. Through discussing our experiences and allowing ourselves to feel and acknowledge the emotions that stem from those experiences we can begin to move through the pain.

An elder woman sitting in front of a group of children telling a story
Tribal elder telling stories at the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma’s 2020 Winter Gathering.
Photo by Karen Baldwin

Meaning Making

One consequence of traumatic experiences is often a fragmentation of traumatic memories (memories broken into pieces) and a distortion of how the traumatic experience fits into both individual and collective narrative.[1] Ultimately, what I have found to be helpful in the healing process with individuals and can also apply on a collective level is the reconstruction of those narratives. This requires the person/community to examine the existing narratives, which are sometimes problem-saturated, meaning they are told in a way that centers and emphasizes the “problem” or, in this case, the trauma. The meaning making process helps the individual/community to add to that narrative, not removing the problem, but rather incorporating stories of resilience and strength into the overall narrative. This allows us to also recognize the impact of post-traumatic growth, or the benefits that we experience due to a traumatic experience. For example, people who experience traumas sometimes experience significant spiritual awakenings, strengthening of relationships, or are able to see the new possibilities that life has to offer. Not only does this help the individual/community to heal and grow from traumatic experiences, but it reflects an all-encompassing view of our shared narratives. 

Identity Formation

As mentioned in the previous blog post, traumatic experiences tend to cause shifts in one’s identity or sense of self. While this happens on the individual level, many of the traumatic experiences faced by Native people broadly, and Myaamiaki in particular, targeted and threatened our collective identity. For example, the boarding school experience was entirely designed to strip Native people from our identity and assimilate us into American culture. So, not only do we have the trauma impacting individual people’s identities, but the very nature of the trauma leaves a lasting mark on the identity of Myaamiaki for generations.

Fortunately, one of the ways we have been able to remain resilient over time is through maintaining a sense of pride in being Myaamia. I can’t even count how many times I have heard from community members, “my [insert family member here] always taught me to be proud of being Myaamia.” Grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles all know the relative importance of maintaining a sense of pride in one’s identity and often see it as their responsibility to instill this into future generations. 

At the same time, pride is not the only component of having a strong sense of Myaamia identity. Increasing one’s identity also includes feeling a sense of connection to and belonging in the community, embedding yourself within the knowledge system, and both understanding and living out the community values. There are varying levels of engagement with each of these components and there is no right or wrong way to develop a Myaamia identity. However, finding one’s own path toward integrating what it means to be Myaamia into your overall sense of yourself is an important way to heal from Historical Trauma. 

Culture as Healing

Another pathway toward healing from collective trauma is living out our shared cultural heritage. One of the core features of the historical oppression of Native peoples, including Myaamiaki, was the stifling of our ability to practice our culture. However, as we are engaging in cultural revitalization as a community, part of practicing self-determination and healing involves claiming the right to engage in our cultural practices. 

In fact, we know that for many communities, actively practicing their culture helps to foster ongoing healing processes through multiple pathways.[2][3][4] Conceptually, culture has been linked to healing in the following ways:

  • Practicing one’s culture fosters the intergenerational transfer of knowledge and connects people across generations.
  • Cultural knowledge fills in an identity gap where people had reported “something was missing” before.
  • Cultural knowledge increases identity and pride, which are both closely linked to holistic wellbeing.
  • Increasing our personal levels of cultural knowledge helps us to find meaningful ways to live properly.
  • Internalizing cultural knowledge systems increases our self-awareness, which allows us to live a more genuine life. 

So, I encourage you to continue to find ways to incorporate cultural practices into your daily life. Whether that be through using the language, working on a ribbonwork project, playing seenseewinki ‘the bowl game,’ getting together with your Myaamia family, or any other number of ways to engage in cultural practices.

Connection with Family/Community

Finally, and interconnected with each of the aforementioned strategies, is our connection with the Myaamia community. This is highlighted by the fact that at the center of the living well model is the community itself (represented by the web). Feeling connected as a community has been shown to promote a sense of well-being,[5] mental wellness, and resilience.[6] Thus, by continuing to gather formally and informally as a Myaamia community and stay in touch with other community members, we are practicing healing. 

Women gathered around a table removing kernels of Myaamia corn from the cobs by hand
Women removing kernels of Myaamia miincipi ‘corn’ from the cob to make hominy soup.
Photo by Jonathan M. Fox

Individual Coping with HT

Even if an individual is disconnected from the Historical Traumas experienced by Myaamiaki, breaking and mending is a regular part of life. Pulling apart individuals from community coping feels a bit forced because strengthening our own rope simultaneously strengthens the community web. However, to get through the moments when you may be feeling particularly sad, angry, anxious, or any other number of emotions, here are some things you can do!

Connect 

It is common to want to be alone and not have to talk about our feelings when we are experiencing the effects of HT and/or individual experiences of our rope breaking. However, this social isolation tends to increase the intensity of the experience. Therefore, it can be important to recognize who the people in our lives are that will be a source of support and lean on them during difficult times. This may mean asking for and allowing these important people to help us take care of us (clean our home, get groceries, or even just sit with us). Ultimately, this connection provides a source of resilience in the face of adversity.

Listen to Your Mind and Body

There are many ways that listening to one’s mind/body is discussed: making positive life decisions, self-care, mindfulness, and more. However, I want to frame this as listening to what your mind and body are telling you. I emphasize this because what we need at any given time is likely to change and differ from day to day (or even moment to moment). Therefore, know what is best for your body and mind and make the decisions that align with these. Some examples of decisions we know will help us in the long run include: limiting alcohol intake, eating foods that nourish our bodies and sustain us, getting movement into our daily activity, practicing relaxation techniques, and socializing with loved ones. However, this could also mean setting boundaries in line with values and priorities, letting go of thoughts that don’t serve us, or baking a batch of persimmon pudding. Whatever might be best for helping you to feel physically and mentally strong will ultimately serve you.

Importantly, if you find that you are out of touch with your body and struggle to identify what you need at any given moment, it may be helpful or even necessary to do this in conjunction with a professional. 

(Self-) Compassion 

Compassion is the extension of warmth, understanding, and general kindness to individuals who are experiencing the pain associated with breaking. The reciprocal process of both extending compassion to others and receiving that compassion from others is an important avenue for coping. At the same time, that compassion can be turned around on the self. Because the mending process involves increasing our awareness of our personal responsibility in the breaking process, we also must practice self-compassion in order to engage in the behaviors that help us to mend. This helps us to acknowledge just how normal it is to feel emotions in response to traumatic experiences. 

Grounding 

Grounding techniques are particularly helpful for intense and acute emotional experiences. When our emotions are so large that we cannot connect with the present moment, grounding helps to disconnect from those intense emotions and pulls us into the present moment. For example, you simply might go outside and focus on finding that tree that you know the Myaamia name or importance of (could also look for a plant, body of water, etc.). Once there, take the time to notice all the characteristics of the tree: the bark, the leaves, any fruit it produces, etc. This process will pull you into focusing on things in your current environment, which inherently distracts you from the intensity of the emotion(s) and places you in the present moment. 

Therapy

Finally, I cannot stress enough the importance and value of seeking help from a mental health professional. When you find someone you work well with, help-seeking can help to increase your self-awareness, learn new coping skills, find new ways of being and interacting with others, and much more. All of this (ideally) occurs in collaboration with the mental health professional and is filtered through your own value and knowledge systems. 

In conclusion, there are many ways for you to cope with the breaking and mending process resulting from Historical Trauma. I encourage you to try out any and all of these that fit into your own life. 


Disclaimer

This blog post is intended to be for informational and educational purposes, primarily for the Myaamia community, and should not be considered or utilized for therapeutic or treatment purposes. I am not able to provide clinical opinions regarding any questions or comments that may arise from this post and engagement with this does not constitute a professional relationship. If you find yourself in need of psychological services, I strongly encourage you to reach out to a clinical provider in your area. Use this Find a Therapist tool by Psychology Today to find practicing clinicians in your local area. If you believe you are in need of immediate assistance, please utilize the resources listed on this website.


Bibliography

[1] Van der Kolk, Bessel A., and Rita Fisler. “Dissociation and the fragmentary nature of traumatic memories: Overview and exploratory study.” Journal of traumatic stress 8, no. 4 (1995): 505-525.

[2] Hunter, Linda M., Jo Logan, Jean-Guy Goulet, and Sylvia Barton. “Aboriginal healing: Regaining balance and culture.” Journal of Transcultural Nursing 17, no. 1 (2006): 13-22.

[3] Masotti, Paul, John Dennem, and U. S. N. CADC-II. “Culture is prevention project: Development of the cultural connectedness scale-California for use in multi-tribal urban communities.” In APHA’s 2018 Annual Meeting & Expo (Nov. 10-Nov. 14). American Public Health Association, 2018.

[4] Sivak, Leda, Seth Westhead, Emmalene Richards, Stephen Atkinson, Jenna Richards, Harold Dare, Ghil’ad Zuckermann et al. ““Language breathes life”—Barngarla community perspectives on the wellbeing impacts of reclaiming a dormant Australian Aboriginal language.” International journal of environmental research and public health 16, no. 20 (2019): 3918.

[5] Lee, Richard M., Brooke L. Dean, and Kyoung-Rae Jung. “Social connectedness, extraversion, and subjective well-being: Testing a mediation model.” Personality and Individual Differences 45, no. 5 (2008): 414-419.

[6] Snowshoe, Angela, Claire V. Crooks, Paul F. Tremblay, and Riley E. Hinson. “Cultural connectedness and its relation to mental wellness for First Nations youth.” The journal of primary prevention 38, no. 1-2 (2017): 67-86.

One Comment Add yours

  1. klcy6000 says:

    Haley, mihši neewe! How timely! How necessary. I had “pieces” of our family’s story like a puzzle, but no picture to look at to put them in their proper place. As I’m seeing the picture more clearly, with the associated pain, your articles have been a huge help. I can stay in the present, acknowledging the past, and focus on moving forward with myaamiaki atahsapimawaali. What a comfort!

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