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What is Historical Trauma and does it Affect Indigenous Americans?

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

Although the idea of historical trauma has a lot of skepticism surrounding it, the concept cannot be completely written off. For the purpose of this blog, we will be contemplating the notion of historical trauma and how it may be affecting indigenous populations in North America. 

So, what is historical trauma?

According to Michelle Sotero, an adjunct lecturer at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas whose primary research focuses on historical trauma, “the primary feature of historical trauma is that the trauma is transferred to subsequent generations through biological, psychological, environmental, and social means, resulting in a cross-generational cycle of trauma” [1]. This feature of historical trauma can undoubtedly be applied to Indigenous Americans because of the horrendous experiences indigenous groups have endured (past and present), and the effects of those experiences on indigenous communities. 

Indigenous Americans have experienced the “loss of people, loss of land, and loss of family and culture” in the last several centuries [1]. This leads to another theory surrounding historical trauma which asserts that “current social-environmental, psychological and physiological distress in Native American communities [...] are a direct result of the historical losses this population has suffered” [1]. Some of these current concerns include domestic violence rates in indigenous American communities, low high school completion rates, poverty rates, drug use, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, depression, suicide, and other concerns [1].

According to a text written by psychology professors Derald Wing Sue and David Sue, who focus on the topic of multicultural counseling, some of these concerns “may be related to low self-esteem, loss of cultural identity, lack of positive role models, history of abuse and neglect, self-medication due to feelings of hopelessness, and loss of family and tribal connections” [1]. So, it is possible that past historical traumas do have an effect on Indigenous American communities, today. 

Though there is skepticism still revolving around the theory of historical trauma, as a society, we cannot ignore the fact that our indigenous populations in America are still experiencing many trials and tribulations, and that so many different indigenous cultures and people were lost because of acts committed in the past. 


1. Brown-Rice, K. (2014, October 15). Examining the theory of historical trauma among Native Americans. The Professional Counselor.



Author: Lauryn Agron

Editor: Kayjah Taylor

Health Scientist: Catherine Sarwat

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