Writing History as Healing


Chemawa Indian School

Many of my friends and readers know that I have been in the process of writing my first book, which is a co-authored project with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. The title is “‘All the Real Indians Died off’ and 20 Other Myths about Native Americans” and it’s part of a series at Beacon Press that tackles different social issues; the two existing books in this series look at labor unions and immigration. Our book is the third in the series. Beacon Press is one of the oldest, most well respected presses in the country and they specialize in topics related to society, social justice, education, etc. Everything they publish is  serious non-fiction. It is truly an honor to be associated with such an institution, especially as a first-time author. The book is scheduled for release in October of this year.


Writing this book has been the culmination of years of formal education combined with the real life experience of being Indian. I went back to school at the age of 47 to get a degree in Native American studies because it has always been a subject that is closest to my heart. It certainly wasn’t because I thought I could make a lot of money with a degree like that.


I figured out a long time ago that there was a lot more to being Indian than everything I had been taught as a kid, and began when I first started learning about the boarding schools. That was in the early 90’s before it was the common knowledge that it is today. I learned that my grandmother and my great uncles were boarding school survivors; it was a concealed history, something my grandmother never spoke of. In fact, when my uncle Vern at the age of 75 told me about their experiences at Chemawa, I suspect it may have been the first time he had ever really spoken about it. His stories were classic tales of abuse  and humiliation, stories so commonly told now because there is greater social awareness, compared to 25 or 30 years ago.


It was learning this family history that set me on the course I am on today as a scholar and a writer, and before that as an artist. It stirred in me a deep commitment to learning  not only  about what had happened to my family, but the larger histories that I knew were carefully concealed in American history classrooms and society at large. Before there was something called “historic trauma” I dedicated my life to doing anything and everything I could to heal these ancestral wounds that I knew I carried inside me.


Writing this book has been part of that healing. My hope and prayer is that it will help contribute to the healing of other individuals  who share a similar history. If only one person  finds healing in this book it will have been worth it. But more than that, my hope is that healing will also happen on the societal level. For it is only in a society that can be honest with itself about its history that everyone can find healing eventually. For me, writing has been one of the most powerful tools for healing the intergenerational trauma I inherited. What has been your most healing practice?

About Dina

Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Colville Confederated Tribes) is a lecturer of American Indian Studies at California State University San Marcos, and a consultant and educator in environmental justice policy planning. Dina’s research interests focuses on Indigenous nationalism, self-determination, environmental justice, and education. She also works within the field of critical sports studies, examining the intersections of indigeneity and the sport of surfing. Dina is co-author with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz of Beacon Press’s “All the Real Indians Died Off” and 20 Other Myths About Native Americans, and her forthcoming book, As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice from Colonization to Standing Rock, is scheduled for release by Beacon Press in April 2019.
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3 Responses to Writing History as Healing

  1. TribalMember says:

    ICTMN was where I first learned of you. What a gifted person you truly are. Your article was on forgiveness of the past atrocities that have been done to Native Americans. I for one, can not say I have been able to forgive in the general sense. How could I? When I visit my Rez, in the desert and the emotions wash over me with a flood of tears streaming down. I think of their soft spoken nature and those of my own family there. How gentle and lovong. There is still and likely always will be too much pain to overlook! I can’t. I carry the hurt of my Ancestors, how can we not? They are us and we, we only exist because they did.


    • Dina says:

      Thank you for that. I appreciate your kind words. I’m curious, what do you see in terms of possibility for the collective healing of our people? Do you think it’s possible for settler and indigenous populations to live together in harmony, or at least in a better relationship? Or are we all doomed by the past 500 years of oppression?


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