• June 2011
  • Vol. 12, No. 5

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Historical Trauma, Microaggression, and American Indian Families

The overrepresentation of American Indian and Alaska Native children in many States' child welfare systems has prompted calls for a greater understanding of the impact of historical trauma on American Indian families. In a recent eReview that is part of a series focusing on trauma and child welfare systems, Cari Michaels summarizes a presentation by Karina Walters titled "Historical Trauma, Microaggressions, and Identity: A Framework for Culturally Based Practice," which provides an overview of this topic, as well as examples of responses to historical trauma by American Indians.

Historical trauma generally affects a population over multiple generations as the trauma is transmitted from one generation to the next. Historical trauma may be associated with depression, anxiety, survivor guilt, and other trauma-related reactions. The review notes that there are three characteristics of the events that have led to historical trauma in American Indian communities:

  • The traumatic events are widespread among the population.
  • They produce high levels of collective distress in contemporary communities.
  • Outsiders perpetrate the events intentionally.

One of the many examples of these events was the forced removal of American Indian children from their families for placement in boarding schools.

The review also discusses the contemporary violence experienced by American Indians who encounter racism and discrimination in everyday life. Termed "microaggression," these acts are more subtle than historical trauma but can have a devastating cumulative effect.

An indigenist stress-coping model is described that includes four protective factors that can buffer an individual and moderate the effects of historical trauma and microaggression. The protective factors are positive identity attitudes, enculturation, spiritual methods of coping, and traditional healing practices. The review suggests that these factors explain why some American Indians have better resilience in the face of historical trauma and microaggression.

Cultural competence strategies that child welfare systems have used to provide guidance to those working with American Indian families are listed. The strategies focus on learning about and acknowledging the historical trauma, as well as promoting resilience in individuals and communities.

The review includes comments on the relevance of the concepts of historical trauma and microaggression for African-American and Hmong populations involved with child welfare. The commentators encourage the use of these concepts in cultural competency training for child welfare workers.

Historical Trauma and Microaggressions: A Framework for Culturally Based Practice was published by the Center for Excellence in Children's Mental Health at the University of Minnesota and is available on the website:

www.cmh.umn.edu/ereview/cmhereviewOct10.pdf (884 KB)

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