Native Americans have been facing psychological consequences of genocide for over 400 years. Due to colonization and military attacks, Native Americans have been subjected to one of the most systemic and brutal ethnic cleansing operations in history. They were relocated to penal colonies, neglected, starved, forbidden to practice their religious beliefs, and their children were taken away from them and reeducated so that much of their language, culture and kinship patterns were lost (Whitbeck, Adams, Hoyt, & Chen, 2004). In addition, the researchers note that the threats of their lives and cultures being obliterated has become progressive, increasing as each generation passes away. One elder noted, “I feel bad about it. Tears come down. That is how I feel. I feel weak. I feel weak about how we are losing our grandchildren.”
Native Americans still are faced with daily reminders of this violent erasure of self and community, such as reservation living, encroachment on their reservation land, loss of language, loss of traditional practice, and loss of healing practices (Whitbeck, Adams, Hoyt, & Chen, 2004). The Indian Health Service (1995) noted that Native American alcoholism death rate was 5.5 times the national average. One can argue that this population is drinking as a means of coping with the historical and generational trauma, as well as the daily reminders of the trauma they experience. Whitbeck, Adams, Hoyt, and Chen, 2004 supported this theory, indicating that daily reminders of ethnic cleansing coupled with persistent discriminations are the keys to understanding historical trauma among Native people.
When conducting psychological treatment with this population it is important to be mindful of the historical and generational trauma Native Americans have faced, as well as keeping in mind the role their culture plays. Brave Heart and DeBruyn (1998) highlight that when conducting psychological treatment it is important to recognize that Native Americans incorporate spiritual empowerment and utilize traditional healing ceremonies, which have a natural therapeutic and cathartic effect for spiritual, physical and emotional healing. Many tribes need to conduct specific grief ceremonies, not only for recent deaths, but also historical traumas, including but not limited to the loss of sacred objects being repatriated, mourning for human remains of ancestors, loss of rights to raise children in their cultural norms, and loss of land. Bridging both evidence-based treatment (EBT) and culturally sensitive approaches in this population appears advantageous. Gone (2009) found, “Both in Northern Algonquian and other Native community contexts, the therapeutic emphasis often remains on healing rather than treatment.” McCabe (2007) supported this finding, indicating that Native healing goes beyond the meaning of distress and coping, to fostering a robust sense of well-being, a strong Aboriginal identification, cultural reclamation, purposeful living and spiritual well-being. Native Americans may not be fond of formal outcome assessment or therapeutic interventions, and find it a distraction from the provision of services ( (Gone, 2011).
Brave Heart, M., & DeBruyn, L. (1998). The American Indian holocaust: healing historical unresolved grief. American Indian & Alaska Native Mental Health Research: The Journal Of The National Center, 8(2), 56-78.
Gone, J. P. (2009). A Community-Based Treatment for Native American Historical Trauma: Prospects for Evidence-Based Practice. Journal Of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 77(4), 751-762. doi:10.1037/a0015390
Gone J. P. (2011). The red road to wellness: Cultural reclamation in a Native First Nations community treatment center. American Journal of Community Psychology 47(1–2):187–202
Indian Health Service. (1995). Trends in Indian health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Washington, DC.
McCabe, G. H. (2007). The healing path: A culture and community-derived indigenous therapy model. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 44, 148– 160.
Whitbeck, L. B., Adams, G. W., Hoyt, D. R., & Chen, X. (2004). Conceptualizing and Measuring Historical Trauma Among American Indian People. American Journal Of Community Psychology, 33(3/4), 119-130.
Katy Roth, M.A., CRC
WKPIC Doctoral Intern