And the Trauma Continues

Yesterday in the ongoing demonstration against the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, over 80 people were arrested for “rioting.” This is just the most recent in a long series of intimidation tactics designed to wear down the resolve of the water protectors, and brings the number of arrests made into the hundreds. The intimidation against the unarmed demonstrators to date includes the use of attack dogs, pepper spray, militarized police, the arresting of journalists, and routine strip searching. The use of the term “riot” is a false construct whose purpose it to justify the state’s violent crackdown on a peaceful but tenacious protest. 

In the wake of the arrests and up-to-the-minute updates–thanks to facebook live posting and other social media–a Native American facebook friend of mine posted that she was reduced to tears and feeling “triggered”. This was history repeating itself, she said, watching our Native brothers and sisters defending their lands and resources from government aggression. Instead of fighting the calvary as they clear lands for a transcontinental railroad–the iron horse– they are fighting the intrusions of another state-backed transcontinental project, this time an oil pipeline–the black snake. Same shit, different century. 

Historic, or intergenerational trauma is now a recognized condition in the world of psychology. It’s a form of post-traumatic stress syndrome that gets passed from generation to generation (many believe genetically inherited) in groups of people who were subject to intense oppression. Even though an event that caused PTSD may be in the past, the symptoms of PTSD can return through triggering events. They can be internal triggers, like memories or thoughts. Or they can be external triggers, like stressful situations or environments.   

Symptoms include a re-experiencing or reliving of a traumatic event, like a flashback, nightmares, or actual physical reactions such as increased heart rate or other physical symptoms; avoidance (thoughts, feelings, people); hyperarousal (edginess, sleep difficulty, irritability, a sense of danger); and negative thoughts and beliefs (distance from others, difficulty feeling positive feelings, feeling that your life may be cut short). 
My own responses to the Standing Rock standoff range from tears to a certain level of dissociation (avoidance). Always there is a sense of not being able to escape persecution, or not having the option to stop fighting. It’s more than exhausting to live with the feeling for your entire life that you must keep fighting. 

The problem is that these triggers are more than simply having flashbacks or memories of an event in a long ago past. The events at Standing Rock are a reminder of the system we have inherited that reenacts the original wounding over and over and over again. 

This is why Native people cannot simply just “get over” the past, as we are often told we should. For us, the past never ended. 


About Dina

Dina is Policy Director and Senior Research Associate at the Center for World Indigenous Studies, and teaches American Indian Studies at California State University San Marcos. A descendant of the Colville Confederated Tribes of Washington, she holds a bachelor's degree in Native American Studies and a master's degree in American Studies with a research focus on indigenous studies, both from the University of New Mexico. She is a veteran Indian artist, and dancer in the Native American powwow tradition. Along with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, she is co-author of "'All the Real Indians Died Off' and 20 Other Myths About Native Americans" (Beacon Press). As a freelance writer, she writes for KCET Link TV, was a long-time contributor to Indian Country Media Network, Native People's Magazine and numerous other outlets.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to And the Trauma Continues

  1. Nativeheart says:

    Thank you for writing this. It is a perfect encapsulates the moment. You’re writing is very astute. I love it.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s