“Intergenerational trauma is the transmission of historical oppression and its negative consequences across generations.”
– ‘Intervention to Address Intergenerational Trauma’
“Colonization can be termed as historical trauma, intergenerational trauma. It’s trauma after trauma happening over and over again over the course of your life and then it’s been happening generation after generation before you. And so what happens is you end up with a lot of lateral violence and expression of pain going out to the people around you.”
– Harley Eagle, Dakota and Ojibiwe Cultural Safety Facilitator
Harley Eagle opens our newest film, Healing Justice, with a powerful point on the origins of violence enacted on Native communities, linking it back to the suffering caused by colonizers over generations.
Intergenerational trauma is a body-based experience, one that can change a person’s response to stressors in their daily life.
Intuitively as marginalized peoples, we know the effects of having our worth diminished and the active harm caused to our families over time. An accumulation of micro-aggressions – those small but painful reminders of systematic oppression – can trigger those larger in-built stress responses. It becomes much more than having a bad day; it increases feelings of worthlessness and the likelihood of serious mental illness in black and Native communities, as well as other communities of color.
And structurally, intergenerational trauma can look like lack of access to necessary elements that promote health and wellbeing, whether that is physical access or education on how to keep oneself well.
Efforts to address intergenerational trauma in Aboriginal youth in Canada are the focus of a 2012 report entitled ‘Intervention to Address Intergenerational Trauma.’¹ Collaborators found that the common recommendations of addressing trauma were to:
- Integrate Aboriginal worldviews into interventions;
- Strengthen cultural identity as a healing tool;
- Build autonomous and self-determining Aboriginal healing organizations;
- To integrate existing, but isolated interventions into mainstream health services; and
- Involve mainstream professionals to learn more about Aboriginal approaches to healing.
Other community recommendations were to create “holistic evaluations, more reliable funding, and more resources to access information about addressing intergenerational trauma.”
Though the research focuses specifically on Aboriginal youth in Canada, we can draw parallels to how other communities may cope with trauma through centering community healing practices, strengthening cultural identity, and building professional support networks.
¹The report is a compilation of research reviewed in a collaboration between the Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth, YMCA Calgary, and University of Calgary. Access it here: https://www.ucalgary.ca/wethurston/files/wethurston/Report_InterventionToAddressIntergenerationalTrauma.pdf