Oral Presentation Session - Cosponsored Status Awarded
Sponsored by: Society for Medical Anthropology
Cosponsored by: Association of Indigenous Anthropologists
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists
Primary Theme: Health
Secondary Theme: Indigeneity
Despite its growing prominence in Indigenous communities, psychology, and public health, historical trauma as a concept and an issue to be addressed has received minor attention in anthropology. Defined by Brave Heart (1998) is “the cumulative emotional and psychological wounding of an individual or generation caused by a traumatic experience or event.” The concept of historical trauma has been increasingly raised in relation to Indigenous health, in which it is generally used as an explanatory model linking contemporary experiences of distress with a social and moral drama that remains in force (Waldram, 2014). The concept implies a direct connection between contemporary health inequities and broad historical processes of colonization, oppression, and the cumulative losses of traditional lifeways, subsistence patterns, and culture (Adelson, 2008; Duran & Duran, 1995; Gone, 2013; Hatala et al., 2016; Kirmayer et al., 2014; Brave Heart, 2003). With its origins in the Jewish experience of the holocaust in WWII, the concept has gained prominence as a way for Indigenous communities to understand the impacts of settler colonialism, genocide, boarding schools, forced relocation, and the host of continuing insults and atrocities against Native people such as the Keystone Pipeline and its intrusions and violence at Standing Rock. Anthropologists, historians, and critical race scholars have a rich history examining these relations. More recently, the language of epigenetics has further infused understandings of historical trauma that has become part of American Indian DNA (Pember 2015). Such narratives over simplify the complex histories and possibilities of addressing the impact of social inequities that give rise to increased suffering. It is not the case that anthropology lacks similar concepts from social suffering (Kleinman, Das and Lock 1997) and the extensive literature on trauma, which are brought together in Hinton and Hinton’s volume which highlights the tensions between memory, power relations in the form of public memory and medical diagnosis, and finally an exploration of modalities for recovery (2015). Historical trauma, like social suffering was developed to understand how people’s suffering is caused and conditioned by society while drawing attention to how bodily experiences of pain and distress are conditioned and moderated by social context. “This often serves to expose how “structural violence” plays a part in the social distribution of many forms of bodily disease and mental illness, and for this to be made materially evident in the limits set for people’s health” (Wilkinson and Kleinman 2016: 15). And yet, historical trauma remains largely invisible to this conversation. There are tendencies within this literature, to focus on individual pathology and victimization while minimizing notions of resilience or wellbeing. This panel proposes to examine the possibilities and challenges of historical trauma in Indigenous communities. We ask in what ways the concept pushes us beyond or wraps our work into the language of social suffering and trauma? How does someone talk about the epigenetics of historical trauma and language that is meaningful for the communities with whom they work/collaborate? How do we engage this problem outside of a pathologizing framework?