Dealing with Trauma Through Storytelling

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As an Indigenous person who is part of what has been called the Sixties Scoop generation, I have had my share of trauma. I have struggled for years with issues of abandonment, trust, and self-worth. I experienced some new areas of trauma when I started to have panic attacks. I had to share my story with a psychologist and get help and discuss these issues with my family doctor and get help.

My daughter had just been diagnosed with cancer but was cured of that cancer a year later. I had taken on a part-time job as a pastor in a First Nations church. I had started studies in a doctorate program, and I had had a few major surgeries. These events created a perfect storm of anxiety and trauma. My anxiety, through trauma and new challenges in life, had gone to a whole new level.

Intergenerational trauma is when tragic events in a person's family are passed on from generation to generation in many different areas. These traumas can include a lack of parenting skills, addictive behaviors, abuse, self-abuse, low self-worth, and the list goes on and on. This is what Indigenous people have endured. Some people have experienced trauma such as a loved one being killed, a family member committing suicide, or losing a house and all their possessions in a fire or flood.

When I look at the history of Indigenous people, they have endured intergenerational trauma that goes back at least 400 years. They are similar to the people of Israel who were in slavery for over 400 years, or similar to the African-American people who experienced slavery and segregation, or the Jewish people of the Holocaust. There are many indigenous people groups that could tell their story of intergenerational trauma.

As I am doing research for my doctoral studies, I am often overwhelmed by the stories I am reading. There are stories from residential schools and many other unfortunate events in the history of Canada and the United States. All of these issues have created intergenerational trauma. Having children taken away by the government and church is a traumatic thing to happen to anyone. Yet as a believer in Jesus, I know I can’t allow myself to get caught up in unforgiveness. Many people in North America could tell their own stories of similar types of tragic events, but how do we move on?

The Scriptures are filled with examples of Jesus connecting with people. Jesus connected with the woman at the well knowing she was a victim of ethnic and religious racism (John 4:1-42). Jesus connected with the blind man who wanted to see (John 8:22-26). Jesus connected with people when he fed the 5,000 (in all four Gospels). Jesus connected with the woman who poured expensive perfume on his feet (Mark 14:1-11).

Jesus didn’t avoid these situations with people who wanted to be healed or wanted questions answered. Jesus connected with them and talked with them and challenged them and healed them and brought them salvation. When we connect with others through sharing our stories of trauma, there is something special that takes place in our hearts. We know we are not alone. Many people have experienced intergenerational trauma or simply traumatic events, which have caused anxiety, grief, confusion, and a number of other emotions.

Some events that have caused intergenerational trauma with Indigenous People and Native North Americans consisted of people not being allowed to speak their own language, being separated from family, having their hair cut, having their names changed, and many other disturbing events. The government and church leaders wanted to “civilize” the Indians and bring a much-needed new way of life.

I believe God wanted the church leaders to remind Indigenous people that God loved them and wanted to be a part of their lives. That God had some special things he wanted to give them through reading God’s word. Yet when families are separated (and many other atrocities occur), this causes a long line of intergenerational trauma. It is the exact opposite of what God wanted.

My Story

I have reflected on my own journey of trauma. I was moved around to 12 different homes before I settled with one family. My adopted mother died after having cancer for six years. I didn’t meet my biological family until I turned 18. And that’s just to name a few. I have found that when I share my stories with others, especially other believers, and they share their stories with me, there is now a connection that is more meaningful. Through this sharing and connection, we conclude that we all need Jesus. We all need healing. We all need forgiveness. We are trying to move on. 

I have also heard it said on many occasions from fellow Indigenous people that they are troubled when non-Indigenous people say it’s time to get over the past. I have heard people say, “I am tired of hearing about residential schools or boarding schools and other events in the past. It’s time to get over it.” I wish it was really that simple. It’s extremely complicated. 

I think a good illustration to use is when a person has cancer. They seek treatment, and many people, including doctors and therapists and nurses and family and friends, console them. They go through a complete process of understanding their situation. Even when the cancer either goes away or goes into remission, that person still goes to follow-up appointments for the rest of their life. Yet when Indigenous people want to talk about their frustrations, they are often met with a lack of empathy.

When I hear of the stories of the genocide of the Holocaust, the genocide that took place in Rwanda, and the genocide that took place across North America with fellow Indigenous peoples, I know this will all take time to work through. Usually when someone has been dealing with a challenging situation, they go to support groups. There are support groups for people struggling with addictions and overeating. There are support groups for cancer survivors. There are support groups for divorced people. It seems that there are support groups for many challenging things we face in life.  

Connecting with others through telling our stories, reminds us that we all need Jesus. We all need forgiveness. We do need to move on, but part of moving on is having an ongoing connection with others like Jesus did. Part of moving on is learning to share our tragedies. Share your tragedies with Jesus in prayer. Share your tragedies with others who have gone through similar tragedies. When we share our trauma, we connect with people on a deeper level. Every time we share parts of our stories, we release that mounting anxiety and stress and grief. Through doing that we are not allowing these past events to control our lives. As we release the past through connecting with others and sharing our stories, we are allowing ourselves to move ahead one more step.

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