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Historical Trauma: It's Not Your Fault

While attending a sexual assault response team conference in Anchorage I was reminded of the impact of historical trauma. Historical trauma, as coined by Marie Yellow Horse Braveheart, PhD is "cumulative and collective psychological and emotional injury sustained over a lifetime and across generations resulting from massive group trauma." It was my pleasure to meet and listen to Elsie Boudreau, a brave social worker who is working to restore the spirit of her native brothers and sisters. I learned that the foundation of the Yup'ik was to act compassionately, share, help those in need and be connected to the people, Earth and the universe.

The children were considered a "source of wealth" and parents were taught by their parents who were taught by their parents to create a relationship for "children to grow up to be good relatives and good human beings through words of wisdom". I tell you this background in order to shed light on significant trauma and tragedy that happened to the Alaskan peoples. Since the 1900's they have been attacked in so many ways. Try to imagine entire villages being wiped out by disease like the Influenza epidemic and smallpox only to then have their children taken and sent to boarding schools around the country and then have the people who came to "save" them take advantage of their kindness and abuse their children. As Elsie or Abugen (her Yup'ik name) so eloquently stated, "NO WONDER".

No wonder in 2016 the rate of alcohol induced death was over 7 times higher than the national average in the United States for Alaskan Native people at 81.7 per 100,000 compared to 9.5 per 100,000 (1).

No wonder the suicide rate for Alaskan Native people in 2016 was 3 times higher than then national rate at 43.5 per 100,000 compared to 13.5 per 100,000 (2).

No wonder Alaska has a rate of reported rape three times the national average and the highest rate of forcible rape in the United States (3).

If you are familiar with the Adverse Childhood Experiences Pyramid you know that early death, risk of disease and adoption of risky behaviors are based on a foundation of historical trauma, further social conditions, adverse childhood experiences and disrupted brain development. Those that have been traumatized over and over again have a much harder time fulfilling their needs to meet their true potential. Those in the ACE's pyramid, for the most part, will be unable to reach the top of American psychologist, Abraham H. Maslow's pyramid of self actualization (figure below) because the foundation of this pyramid is built on having one's necessities met with safety, loving relationships, confidence and self-esteem.

So indeed it is no wonder at all why Alaska (and even the entire world) is in the position it is in. There is hope and that hope revolves around breaking down barriers, smashing silence and not allowing recurrent trauma to happen. I encourage.. NO...I implore you to seek out others. Do not let prior trauma define who you are. You are loved, you are wanted, you are needed and you are a wonderful miracle of life that has so much to offer. Trauma comes in so many ways and affects each of us differently. Please reach out for help if you are struggling.

Please read the timeline and look for the video from PBS Frontline to help comprehend the degree of historical trauma that I am referencing. Thank you Abugen for your story and for shedding light on this horrific trauma.

For more information on Adverse Childhood Experiences Score please click here to go to the CDC website.

Live Well,

Dr. A

5. J. Finkelstein [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]


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