National speaker explains how historical trauma haunts Native American communities – the Durango Herald

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Recognizing past events and lingering impacts helps the healing process

Saleena Boyington, left, a social worker in social services, and Elena Giacci, an advocate for indigenous communities and victims of sexual and domestic violence, share a moment outside the Southern Ute multi-use facility in Ignacio. Both said discussions of historical trauma can help Native American and Indigenous communities heal. (Shannon Mullane / Special for the Herald)

Editor’s Note: This article contains descriptions of violence and abuse that may be sensitive to some readers.

IGNACIO – In a room in the Southern Ute Reservation, nearly 65 people were ordered to take a rubber band, bite one end, stretch it away from their mouths, and hold it.

The group was participating in training on historical and current trauma among Native American and Indigenous communities, held Monday on the occasion of Indigenous Peoples Day. National speaker Elena Giacci was demonstrating a tactic used against Native American children in residential schools to teach English and punish Native language.

At the front of the room, Giacci stretched a rubber band to his demonstration assistant, the 6th district attorney, Christian Champagne.

She asked him to say “Hello, how are you?” in the Lakota language. Since he could not, she stopped the demonstration. The boarding school teachers weren’t that nice.

“It was told to me by a grandfather. He said it would happen three to 30 times a day, ”Giacci said, adding that other elders had told him similar stories. “He said, ‘Elena, when I speak my own language, my lips hurt.’ And he was out of residential school then, probably about 65 years old.

Grieving and counseling services are available through community resources such as the Grief Center of Southwest Colorado, Axis Health System, and Colorado Crisis Services at (844) 493-8255.

Giacci shared this memory as part of a presentation on historical events, the traumas they caused and the lasting impacts they have today. Acknowledging the pain of the past is a step in the healing process, said Giacci, a Diné trainer and advocate specializing in antisexual and domestic violence and advocacy for Native American and Indigenous communities.

The two-day training was attended by a mix of Native American and non-Native community members, therapists, lawyers, teachers, health providers and more.

It was organized by Champagne and the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, the Mercy Regional Medical Center, and the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

The first day focused on the links between traumas experienced by past generations and lasting impacts. Giacci presented decades of harmful policies and practices against Native Americans, as well as discussions of prejudice, the importance of apologies, healing, and advice for non-natives who wish to help.

“It’s like there is one thing after another after another,” she said during the presentation. “But you have to understand this story to understand our rage.”

Historic trauma and now

Giacci began its historic outline in 1500 – but its impacts, she said, extend until 2021.

At that time, historians estimate that there were approximately 60 million Native Americans in North America. In 1900, the population fell to 1 million, Giacci said.

“Just imagine how your life would change if you were the only person surviving in your entire state,” she said.

At the end of the 15th century, the Doctrine of Discovery was published by the Catholic Church. It worked its way into established American law to justify “manifest destiny,” the takeover of Native American lands, the punishment of non-Christians, and ultimately the establishment of residential schools.

The Sand Creek Massacre was described as murder and barbarism in an 1864 Joint Committee on Warfare report, Giacci said. But still to get to the scene of the massacre, people pass by the town of Chivington, which is named after the colonel who led the attack on non-combatant women, children and the elderly.

The historical trauma and sexual violence training held Monday and Tuesday in Ignacio by national speaker Elena Giacci aimed to give attendees a better understanding of past events that influence the Native American experience to date. (Shannon Mullane / Special for the Herald)

She spoke about the forced sterilization of Indigenous women in the 1970s and transracial adoption practices, when an Indigenous mother learned her baby was stillborn as adoption agencies delivered the healthy baby to a non-native family.

People aged 43 and over lived in a time when Native Americans could not freely practice their traditional religions before the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, she said.

“You can practice your religion without fear of punishment. Not our community, ”she said.

She described Ronald McDonald wearing a headdress, which has symbolic and ceremonial significance, in an advertisement. She compared it to the way religions are portrayed in the ad, asking if it was a priest’s necklace, how long would it last?

She joked about her love for cheese available on reserve, one of the many low-nutrient staple foods provided by the federal government.

If anyone sees higher levels of diabetes among Native Americans, “stop and look at what’s going on on the reservation,” Giacci said.

Then, during the residential school days of the 19th and 20th centuries, children were removed from their homes, forced to abandon their indigenous traditions and adopt non-indigenous practices as part of a national policy of forced assimilation. .

Residential school records showed incidents of beatings, poisoning, electric shock, starvation, radiation exposure and pedophile rings, Giacci said.

The history of these schools, like the “Old Fort” belonging to Fort Lewis College, was further amplified this summer when anonymous student graves were discovered at old school sites in Canada and the United States, according to national reports.

Saleena Boyington, a member of the Diné tribe who works as a counselor and social worker, recalled that she was 7 or 8 years old when it was her turn to go to residential school.

“You have the love of your parents, and all of a sudden you’re just ripped off. Then you are placed in an institution and you don’t even understand why, ”she said. “So you are called wild or slow and retarded. … You learn to be, in a sense, stoic. I see that with a lot of American Indians. They’re like, I’m fine. But in reality, they are not.

Christianity imposed itself on her at school and still occupies an important place in her life. He was told not to share his birth name, which means the warrior who turned around. We gave her a number: 13, she said.

“To this day, that’s all I know,” Boyington said. “I don’t know anything about my culture and my traditions. I struggled with it.

It’s confusing, she said.

“I don’t know who I am,” Boyington said.

These historic policies are linked to a continued mistrust of medical institutions and organized religion, and health issues, such as diabetes, drug addiction, suicidal tendencies and depression, Giacci said.

Sometimes in medical circles, Boyington has said she seemed angry or unapproachable. But internally, she faces memories of nurses at the boarding school, she said.

Younger generations remember grandparents who used corporal punishment in the home or the impacts of destroyed family systems.

“When you see corporal punishment, where do you think it comes from? Giacci asked during training.

Righting the wrongs

Inside the Southern Ute Multi-Purpose Facility, the atmosphere was often heavy, punctuated by moments of Giacci humor.

As the discussion evolved into the healing process, she shared a clip from The Stylehorse Collective with a message of resilience from Native American artists. The group listened to Kevin Gover’s “Never Again,” formal apology to Native Americans as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Giacci gave advice to non-natives who wanted to help the healing process. They could request the removal of stereotypical images, such as the “chef” panel at the Toh-Atin Gallery in Durango.

Doctors could make it clear to patients that after the procedures they will still be able to have children, Giacci said.

“One of the main lessons I have is that we need to do a better job in the criminal justice system by working with people of color, especially our Native American community, to help them believe that we are there for them. serve, ”said Champagne. “Being here to serve them with honesty, loyalty and integrity is the best way to do that.”

He saw a deep distrust of the justice system reflected during the training.

“We need to do a better job of bringing them into the fold and helping them understand that we are also working for them,” he said.

The seminar was a reminder of how present these problems are, said Cristen Alexandria, multicultural advocate for Alternatives Horizons.

“And remember all the work we need to do to continue the conversation and deepen our understanding of historical trauma and trauma, especially within our Indigenous community,” said Alexandria. “We have a lot of listening to do.”

Some participants came to connect with others with similar experiences; others to acquire cultural tools and skills.

“This event was difficult. It was really hard to hear about some of those traumas, ”said Mandi McKinley, COO and former lawyer for Alternative Horizons. “I came away feeling that there is a lot of room for people who are not Indigenous to become allies and play a role that can help. “

“It’s a really big eye-opener for me,” said Anna Spencer, forensic nurse at Mercy Regional Medical Center. “The historical trauma has repercussions. So how can we solve this problem? “

For Boyington, her goal was to help other Native Americans in her capacity as a social worker.

“All of this information that I’m getting here, I’m using it in some way to educate a lot of Native Americans on why we behave and do the things we do,” Boyington said.

In the future, she hopes more Native Americans can find healing by dealing with both historical and current trauma.

“We’re not just stuck on a reservation. We can be more than that, ”she said. “For non-natives, when it comes to their education, there is a reason why Native Americans are the way they are and why they behave that way. “


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