Historical Trauma Effects on Student Learning

For Educators & Families
• Become acquainted with the
boarding school era & the history
of Indian Education.
• Understand the impact of
Historical Trauma on student
• Learn strategies to engage Native
students & families in our schools.
Christopher Columbus
arrived in the Caribbean on
October 12th 1492 to
encounter a diverse
Indigenous population.
Columbus had an
uncontrollable lust for gold.
He enslaved thousands of
Taino people, launching an
insidious genocidal
ideology in North America.
“…they were well-built, with good bodies
and handsome features....They would
make fine servants....With fifty men we
could subjugate them all and make them
do whatever we want.“
-Christopher Columbus
By 1496, 4 million Indigenous people
had died by slavery, torture, murder,
disease, and terrorism.
By 1535, an entire culture was
decimated. An estimated 8-10
million people dead.
"The destruction of the Indians of the Americas
was, far and away, the most massive act of
genocide in the history of the world."
~David E. Stannard.
What is Genocide?
United Nations Convention on
Genocide in 1948 defines
characteristics of Genocide:
• Killing members of the group
causing serious bodily or mental
harm to members of the group
• Deliberately inflicting on the group
conditions of life calculated to
bring about its physical destruction
in whole or in part
The systematic killing of all the
people from a national, ethnic, or
religious group, or an attempt to do
• Imposing measures intended to
prevent births within the group
• Forcibly transferring children of the
group to another group.
Historical Trauma
Cumulative emotional and psychological
wounding over the lifespan and across
generations, emanating from massive group
- Dr. Maria YellowHorse-BraveHeart
Traumatic Events
• Warfare/Biological Warfare
• Loss of land base & resources
• Ongoing treaty violations
• Relocation/Removal
• Reservation confinement
• Prohibition of spiritual & cultural
• Forced sterilization
• Community massacres
• Indian mascots
• Boarding schools/assimilation
• Introduction to alcohol
Historical Timeline
1616 – Smallpox decimates Native population in New England
1831 – Supreme Court Case between Cherokee Nations vs. Georgia
1851 – Fort Laramie Treaties were signed
1853 – Extermination of tribes in California
1862 – 38 Dakota hung in Mankato
1876 – Battle of Little Big Horn
1877 – U.S. Govt. seized the Black Hills in violation of treaty agreement
1887 – Dawes (Allotment) Act
1889 – Ghost Dance Movement begins
1890 – Over 300 Lakota were massacred at Wounded Knee, South Dakota
1893 – Boarding School Policy
1917 – More than 17,000 Indians enlist in military during WWI
1924 – American Indians are granted citizenship
Historical Timeline
1928 – Meriam Report published illustrating dire situation of Indians
1934 – Johnson O’Malley Act established
1944 – National Congress of American Indians established
1953 – Termination & Relocation Era
1968 – American Indian Movement & Women of All Red Nations
1972 – Indian Education Act
1978 – Indian Child Welfare Act
1978 – Indian Religious Freedom Act
1990 – Native Language Act
1996 – Clinton declares Nov. National American Indian Heritage Month
1996 – Colbell vs. Salazar was filed
2005 – Red Lake School Shooting
2006 – Minneapolis School Board signs historic Memorandum of Agreement
Boarding School Education
•Mandatory attendance
•Military style regiment
•Speak only English
•Become Christian
•Learn farming, a trade, or
service skill
•Shame of culture and
cultural practices
Trauma & Brain Development
When a developing brain
processes consistent violence
or trauma:
• Neuron receptors cannot
make healthy connections
• Increases heart rate &
develops cardiovascular
• Programs the brain to signal
body to respond in a hypervigilant & unpredictable
The human brain is remarkable
organ capable of absorbing &
storing more bits of information
than any other species.
Symptoms of Trauma
• High suicide rate
• High mortality rate
• High alcoholism/substance abuse
• Domestic violence
• Child abuse
• Low self-esteem
• Anxiety/Stress related illnesses
• Anger
• Shame
• Fear/Distrust
• Loss of concentration
• Isolation
• Loss of sleep
• Uncomfortable in institutions
• Gang activity
• Hypersensitivity
• Hypervigilent
• Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
• Poverty
Trauma & Student Learning
Symptoms of trauma that are not
compatible to student learning
• Poor sleeping & eating habits
• Irritable, hypersensitive & aggressive
• Extreme temper tantrums
• Exaggerated startle response
• Problems with concentration or
• Socially withdrawn
• High anxiety
• Misinterpretation of verbal & nonverbal cues
• Impulsive actions
• Poor self regulation & time
Cultural Identity
Acculturation is a TEMPORARY state.
A process by which an individual or
group socially adapts to a new
Assimilation is a PERMANENT state.
A process by which an individual or
group is absorbed into another group or
If we didn’t experience the trauma, how could we have symptoms?
 First degree relatives of those with
PTSD have a higher rate of anxiety
and substance abuse
 Children of substance abusers
attempt suicide at a higher rate
 Children from parents with anxiety or
depression have an increase risk of
developing similar mood disorders.
Strategies to Engaging
Native students
• Be respectful with students
• Build trust by showing kindness,
honesty & openness
• Get to know student
• Create a positive environment
• Be fair and sincere
• Provide options or choices in
• Teach units that reflect Native
American culture & history
• Make students accountable &
require them to do the work
• Have a sense of humor!
• Use hands on activities
• Utilize a softer tone of voice
• Play music & provide creative
• Find experiential learning
opportunities to fulfill
academic standards
• Use Ojibwe/Dakota words
when possible
• Build upon student strengths
& interests
Further Resources
• “The Canary Effect”, a 2006 documentary by Robin Davey & Yellow
Thunder Woman
• “Beloved Child: A Dakota Way of Life”, a 2011 book by Diane Wilson
• “Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to
Ask”, a 2012 book by Dr. Anton Treuer
• “Kill the Indian, Save the Man”, a 2003 book by Ward Churchill
• “American Holocaust”, a 1992 book by David Stannard
• “In the White Man’s Image”, a 2007 PBS film hosted by David McCullogh
• “Rethinking Columbus”, a 1996 book for teachers edited by Bigelow &
Sorkness, Harold L., and Lynn Kelting-Gibson. "Effective Teaching Strategies for Engaging Native
American Students." (2006): 1-16. Web.
Our Spirits Don't Speak English: Indian Boarding School. Dir. Chip Richie. Perf. Grace Thorpe. 2008. DVD.
"History of Indian Education - OIE." History of Indian Education - OIE. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 June 2014.
"Indian Education Department." Indian Education Department. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 June 2014.
Beardslee, WR & Wheelock, I.(1994). Children of parents with affective disorders: Empirical findings and clinical
implications. In W.M. Reynolds & H.F. Johnson (Eds) Handbook of depression in children and adolescents
(pp.463-479). New York: Plenum.
Segal, B. (in press) Personal violence and historical trauma among Alaska Native pre-teen girls, and adolescent
girls and women in treatment for substance abuse, in Brave Heart, DeBruyn, Segal, Taylor, & Daw (Eds)
Historical Trauma within the American experience: Roots, effects and healing. New York: Haworth Press.
Brave Heart, M.Y.H.(2003). The historical trauma response among Natives and its relationship with substance
abuse: a Lakota illustration, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 35(1), 7-13.

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