Mitakuye Oyass’in. This Lakota phrase translates to “We are all related. We are all connected. The universe, stars, waters, earth, animals, nature and people. Everything has a spirit and this is how we are connected to our Creator.
As a future social worker and registered mental health clinician, it is imperative that I take a multidimensional approach to the helping profession, with an emphasis on cultural humility to appreciate individuals, families and communities. . It is important to understand something from the root instead of what appears on the surface. A story should be told from the start, with factual evidence. It is when a story is told from a single point of view that information can be distorted. On this holiday, where many are still unaware that Columbus never set foot in what is now America, I wanted to take the opportunity to inform about two important historical events that have greatly affected our Indigenous brothers and sisters in through the generations.
Historical trauma refers to many cumulative events that have happened to a specific individual or generation that have caused severe emotional damage. Traumatic responses are manifestations of this perceived experience. Trauma can be passed down through generations through biological, psychological, environmental and social means, resulting in an intergenerational cycle. It is experienced by a specific cultural group which is used to being systematically oppressed.
The first historical timestamp is to understand the Indigenous Holocaust (1492) in the Western Hemisphere. Researchers are amazed at the contributing factors of disease, wars, genocidal violence, germ warfare (Amherst colonial-era smallpox), slavery, forced displacement, and source destruction of food that affected these individuals. How many Indigenous people have died in the Holocaust in the Western Hemisphere between 1492 and today? Since 1900, an estimate of around 200,000 Aboriginal deaths in total can be linked to the legacy of colonialism and institutionalized racism (unconscious prejudice, discrimination and oppression). From 1492 to the present day in the United States, approximately 12 million Indigenous deaths have occurred and an additional 790,000 deaths have occurred in Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico. As for the Western Hemisphere from 1492 to 1900, Indigenous deaths appear to be around 175 million. Estimates vary for the indigenous population before 1490 (5-20 million). After the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890 at Pine Ridge, there were approximately 250,000 Indigenous people in America.
Another significant historical timestamp was the residential school era. There were two different models of boarding schools (on and off reserve). In the 19th and 20th centuries, American residential schools inspired a similar program in Canada, which is shaken by the discovery of hundreds of anonymous tombs in residential schools. The Carlisle Indian Industrial School was founded in 1879 in Pennsylvania. It was the first boarding school “off” the reserve to educate Native American children. The philosophy of the federally funded schools was to “kill the Indian … save man”, forcing a Protestant ideology by banning the use of native language and cultural practices. In 1891, the United States passed a law making attendance compulsory for Native children, and this school became the proposition of more than 300 such schools across the United States.
Due to the number of Native American children taken to boarding schools, families were separated. Traditional and cultural values were not taught and these children did not have parent figures or elders to raise them. For many of these schools, the environment was a place of degradation and abuse. It was a place where conditions were unsanitary due to overcrowding, unclean living spaces and community diseases. Children were often required to cut their long hair, wear uniforms, speak English, change their names, practice Christianity, work on farms, and work in and around the school community to make it work. Discipline in these schools often consisted of confinement, deprivation of privileges, threats, corporal punishment, humiliation or food restriction. In the 1920s, residential schools were deemed “inhumane” due to poor nutrition, heavy child labor, military-style discipline, high death rates, overcrowded conditions and the spread of disease. . It is thanks to this discovery and this advocacy that changed this era and allowed reintegration into families and communities.
On our state’s nine reserves, there are limited resources, limited quality medical access, increased unemployment rates, increased suicide rates, and increased adverse childhood experiences. Life expectancy is 30 years less than that of other South Dakotas. There are many contributing factors that explain this, and it may be related to the roots of the historical trauma.
Throughout my educational journey, it has been humbling to learn more about Native American culture and values. As I continue in my profession, cultural humility, lifelong learning and partnership are essential. The values of harmony, respect and self-determination are admirable with the way that Native Americans integrate this way of being in their communities. Their tribal rituals and ceremonial practices provide a means of moral thought and collective bonding.
I encourage all non-native people to “Walk the Red Road”. It is a phrase used to convey the message of “living a life of purpose and accomplishment.” Using a humanistic approach often leads to understanding, humility and positive influence. I will use this approach as I prepare to make a difference by serving our future generations. As celebrity chef Sitting Bull said, “Let’s put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.
Madysen Pravecek, originally from Freeman, resides in Yankton and is pursuing a Masters of Social Work (MSW) at the University of South Dakota. She received a Bachelor of Social Services degree from Mount Marty.