REFLECTIONS FROM THE ROUNDTABLE: ACCESS TO JUSTICE - HOW DO WE HEAL HISTORICAL TRAUMA?
An overriding theme from the papers presented at the 2017 Roundtable: Accessing Justice is injustice. Central to that injustice is the colonisation of Indigenous peoples. Any discussion on the colonisation of Indigenous peoples quickly deviates into a history lesson; a history lesson steeped in historical trauma.
The following discussion considers the parallels used to construct definitions of historical trauma, the impact historical trauma has had on the current lived experience of many Indigenous peoples around the world, and ways in which those affected can be assisted to heal.
II. DEFINING HISTORICAL TRAUMA
Individual trauma reverberates across communities but also across the generations. (1) Recent years have seen the rise of historical trauma as a trope to describe the long- term impact of colonization, cultural suppression, and historical oppression of many Indigenous peoples (2) including Native Americans in the United States, Aboriginal peoples (First Nations, Inuit and Me tis) in Canada, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia, and the Indigenous Maori of New Zealand. In its most colloquial form, the concept is used merely as a synonym for postcolonial distress. (3) Trauma research in the field of psychology developed in the 1980's when Vietnam War veterans were first diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. (4) Other proponents of this construct have made explicit analogies to the Holocaust as a way to understand the transgenerational effects of genocide. (5) Thornton for example makes one such comparison:
For them [Indians] the arrival of the Europeans marked the beginning of a long holocaust, although it came not in ovens, as it did for Jews. The fires that consumed North American Indians were fevers brought on by newly encountered diseases, the flashes of settlers' and the soldiers' guns, the ravages of firewater, the flames of villages and fields burned by the scorched-earth policy of vengeful Euro-Americans. The effects of this holocaust of North American Tribes was, in a way, even more destructive than that of the Jews, since many American Indian peoples became extinct. (6)
One function of making these historical parallels has been to recognize and valorize Indigenous peoples as victims of violent oppression at the hands of European colonizers and their regimes. (7) However, the social, cultural, and psychological contexts of the Holocaust and the Vietnam War and that of post-colonial Indigenous "survivance" (8) differ in many striking ways. (9) Without doubt, many Indigenous populations were victims of intentional killing through conflict (10) and some groups, like Newfoundland's Beothuk First Nation, were entirely eliminated through low-intensity conflict and starvation. (11) However, defining trauma research around the Holocaust and the Vietnam War emphasises individual and actual events allowing for clear and succinct diagnostic utility, yet it fails to account for long-term chronic and complex individual and collective trauma. (12) While the Holocaust was a time-limited series of events covering about a decade, the events that constitute historical trauma for Indigenous peoples in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand lasted hundreds of years and still exists today. (13) Furthermore, comparisons...
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