I went to listen to the senior seminar of a student that I’ve had the good fortune to work with over the past few months today. Quinn will be graduating with a degree in psychology and was speaking to the problem of suicide in Native American communities in the U.S. and the connection to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and inter-generational trauma.
Her presentation was excellent overall and gave me something particularly new to think about. I’ve heard the comparison over the years between the holocaust and Native genocide. Quinn pointed out a key difference. Many of the survivors of the holocaust were able to leave the concentration camps when the war was over. That’s not an option in this case, at least not for the vast majority.
I am reminded of my old friend Walt Bresette. Walt was Anishinaabe from the Red Cliff Indian Reservation on the shores of Lake Superior. He would often go around speaking to groups about mining and other environmental issues and he would tell these largely non-Native groups– We must come to recognize this place as our home. We don’t do that. We tend to believe that if we don’t live here we can live there. It’s not that way for the Anishanaabe. For the Anishanaabe this place is home. This was where the creator led them, to this place where the food grows on water, that food we call wild rice.
So, we look at the history of Native people in the U.S. forced into small corners of their home, these corners we call reservations, as part of the torture. So, on the reservation is the place of torture because it is what remains of the home and off the reservation is the place of torture because it is the part of the home that was stolen.
What do we do with that?
I’m thinking about all this not only because of Quinn’s presentation, but because I lost an old friend and mentor this past week. He was shot. His nephew shot him. A middle-aged Indian had his brains blown out by a somewhat younger Indian. Why? No one really knows. I doubt the nephew really even fully knows why he pulled that trigger.
What I do keep thinking is that while that young man pulled the trigger, a whole society, a society of which I am a part, murdered my friend.
The stealing of land, the failure to tell the truth of history, the economic, environmental, and social acts of destruction aimed toward the Indigenous people of this land for the past 500+ years, told that young man who he is. Those actions helped him define his own view of himself and determine his response to the world. Every action leads somewhere. Quinn spoke today of inter-generational trauma and ACEs impact on the high levels of suicide in Native American communities. I suspect the same is true for acts of violence and for deaths due to drug and alcohol overdoses as well.
Until we, as a society, really deeply and sincerely address those underlying causes, until we speak the truth of the history, mourn together, and change our actions, we are still engaging in genocide every day and every moment of each day.