The experience of American Indians during the colonial times left them psychologically wounded and alienated, and this trauma was passed over to new generations. First, the experience of violence in the hands of the settlers left many native American dead and the survivors were physically abused. The combination of physical violence, lack of time and opportunity to mourn as well as economic incapacitation became a fundamental defining factor of the identity of American Indians (Duran & Duran, 1995). Second, the intergenerational trauma and loss continued after the time of violent invasion as the US government developed a policy of reservation that involved relocating Indians from their original settlements. Third, the physical violence meted during the invasion and the subjugation during reservation was followed by a cultural genocide that was undertaken using the boarding school policy. While first two losses were physical and geographical, the attempt to tear the cultural fabric for American Indians through the education system has the most impact in the propagation of intergenerational trauma in American Indians.

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Since the time of invasion, American Indians have struggled to find a home in their native land. Current generations cannot come to terms with the level of violence that their grandparents experienced and the lack of an effective government policy to repair the damage. In the 1950’s, the US government revised its policies regarding American Indians by terminating the reservation project and transferred them to urban metropolitan areas (Duran & Duran, 1995). While reservations were a form of cultural violence, they provided a makeshift stability for the American Indians because they were living in the same conditions and facing similar challenges. The relocation to the metropolitan areas exacerbated the trauma and loss of American Indians because it broke links with the community soul, leaving the American Indian bereft of spiritual, physical and emotional attachment. Lastly, the silent denial of the physical and cultural genocide by the US government adds to the intergenerational trauma and American Indians are forced to adapt to a culture that robbed them of everything they had.

The forms of abuse discussed in the preceding paragraphs – physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual – can break the basic organization of families and communities. Personally, I think that the socio-political and economic challenges that are experienced by American Indians today stem from the forms of abuse that the people have suffered in the last four centuries. For instance, the levels of poverty among native communities are higher than the national average. The feelings of loss and the trauma of physical and psychological abuse affected the level of involvement for American Indians in the US economic process. Also, the removal from ancestral land affected the level of attachment to the America and the Indians became foreigners in their own country. These factors contributed to the alienation of native Indians from the American society, so much so, that most children from the societies attempt to hide their identities.

The report by on child adoption and welfare illustrates the problems that American Indian communities face at the family level. The rate of child adoption is four times the non-Indian average and one in 98 American Indian children live in foster care (Jones, Tilden & Gaines-Stoner, 2008). The statistics show the sad reality in the Indian communities and this suggests that the family unit was broken by the historical experience of trauma and loss. As noted earlier, native Indians were forced out of their land, killed and culturally destroyed by the colonizers. The experience was followed by a series of government policies that snatched away the spiritual assets owned by the community. This loss and grief as well as the failure of the US government to admit the damage of its policies permeated to the family unit in the native Indian families. The situation is worsened by the lack of economic resources to sustain a family due to the economic disenfranchisement that the people have faced.

The attachment theory explains how people are attached to their cultures and the impact of historical trauma and loss on the survival of a society. On the positive side, the experience of trauma and loss builds a sense of strength and capacity to overcome hardships. However, it also contributes to the behaviors of people in the society and the development of children. As young people increasingly become aware of the way the system is set against them, they develop feelings of despair and disillusionment. These feelings make it more difficult for the children to adapt to the mainstream cultures and that explains the high levels of suicide, violence and drug abuse among native Americans. Grief and loss reduces the capacity for the people to imagine their place in the society and that affects the willingness of American Indians to coexist with dominant cultures.

In the case of urban Indians, the process of adaptation to mainstream cultures is filled with suspicion between urban and non-urban Indians as well as urban Indians and urban non-Indians. According to the report by National Urban Indian family Coalition (NUIFC), urban Indians feel removed from the tribal organizations in the reservations and that makes the two groups feel that they are competing for resources (NUIFC, 2007). With regard to the relationship between urban Indians and non-Indian communities, there exists unequal distribution of resources and opportunities, a factor that makes urban Indian communities poorer and economically challenged. From these observations, American Indians who were forced to assimilate carried their grief and loss to the urban areas. Their movement from the reservations destroyed their attachment with other native communities without giving them a sense of belonging to the mainstream culture.

  • Duran, E., & Duran, B. (1995). Native American postcolonial psychology. Suny Press.
  • Jones, B. J., Tilden, M., & Gaines-Stoner, K. (2008). The Indian Child Welfare Act handbook: A legal guide to the custody and adoption of Native American children. American Bar Association.
  • NUIFC. (2007). The Status of American Indian and Alaska Native Children and Families Today (pp. 4-20). Alaska: National Urban Indian Family Coalition.