HISTORIC TRAUMA TRANSMISSION
Over time, the experience of repeated traumatic stressors becomes normalized and incorporated into the cultural expression and expectations of successive generations. This is referred to as Historic Trauma Transmission (HTT).
What is HTT?
HTT is a term that was created in the 1980s to describe the cumulative emotional and psychological wounding across generations.
According to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, HTT is what happens “when the effects of trauma are not resolved in one generation.” They go on to describe that “what we learn to see as ‘normal’ when we are children, we pass on to our own children. Children who learn that physical and sexual abuse is ‘normal’ and who have never dealt with the feelings that come from this may inflict physical abuse and sexual abuse on their own children. The unhealthy ways of behaving that people use to protect themselves can be passed on to children, without them even knowing they are doing so.”
Two traumas can be identified as a result of HTT – the original occurrence, as in the event itself; and the destruction of community life and loss of social contacts that follows.
It is repeatedly demonstrated that traumatic impact has been widespread and profound in the Indigenous community.
The history of traumatic impact in the Indigenous community can be traced through the European history of colonization, including its history of disease and epidemics. The effects of colonization can be expressed through five key areas of impact:
Physical: This is associated with the first stage of colonization (cultural transition), and with the introduction of infectious diseases which devastated the Indigenous population; the loss of so many Indigenous lives resulted in a complex form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that is widespread and intergenerational.
Economic: Also associated with the first stage of colonization, economic trauma resulted from Europeans’ violation of Native stewardship of land and the forced removal of people from their natural habitat and way of life.
Cultural: This is associated with the second stage of colonization (cultural dispossession) and the wave of Christian missionaries who intended to bring about religious transformation and cultural deconstruction by banning Indigenous culture and belief systems.
Social: Also associated with the second stage of colonization, colonial settlement led to the displacement of Indigenous people and ways of life. Alien social structures and non-traditional coping mechanisms were introduced by European settlers, and knowledgeable members of the Indigenous community were silenced. Colonial settlement damaged Indigenous families, altered gender roles and diminished Indigenous authority, culture and morals.
Psychological: Associated with the third stage of colonization (cultural oppression), the marginalization of their social selves diminished and impoverished Indigenous communities. Any perception of control over their own lives was reduced and undermined by European colonizers.
For the past 500 years, these effects of the history of European colonization have traumatized the entire Indigenous population. Historic experiences of trauma were combined with the loss of ceremonial freedom, language, dance, song and other methods of healing which would have helped Indigenous people express their experiences and grieve.
The effects of HTT are not necessarily readily identifiable as a specific or individual disorder. Rather, Indigenous people often act out the effects of trauma at personal and cultural levels and re-create trauma as a way of life. Not every Indigenous person will show symptoms of HTT in their lifetime, but the expression of latent symptoms can be seen through the high level of violence, family breakdown and dysfunction in the Indigenous community.
The resilience of Indigenous people’s social and cultural knowledge is presently a vital and active component in the process of defining and redefining Indigenous identity. Naming and deconstructing historic trauma is the first step for Indigenous and non- Indigenous people to free themselves from the effects of historical trauma.