Peace Week Presentation Inspires Candid Conversation on American Indian History

by Lauren Raziano & Kelly Kennedy, Social Media Editor & Asst. Social Media Editor

To celebrate Peace Week, Manhattan College has held two events in order to discuss psychological trauma and its effects on society. The first presentation was on historic American Indian trauma and the second was a follow-up discussion about decolonizing psychological research. Both events were held online via google meet.

The first event, ‘American Indian Historical Trauma: A Conceptual Overview,’ was held on Tuesday, Feb. 23 and featured a presentation by Harvard professor Joseph P. Gone, PhD., focused on generational American Indian trauma. Gone is an expert in the psychology and mental health of American Indians and other indigenous peoples.

Dr. Badruddoja and Dr.Young lead an informal discussion of the ideas presented in Dr. Joseph P. Gone’s presentation via Google Meet on Feb. 24th. 

The presentation began with Gone speaking on behalf of himself and the indigenous people about the mental effects of generational trauma. By outlining the historical trauma of the American Indian population he was able to give insights into the experiences of indigenous people to those who have not experienced it. 

“There has always been and remains terrific diversity among tribal peoples,” Gone said. “We’ve really experienced a remarkable demographic rebound prior to the arrival of Europeans that were maybe five-plus million people and what is now the continental United States who were indigenous peoples.”

Gone continued by speaking about the historical oppression of the American Indian population. He then transitioned into discussing the aftermath of historical oppression and how it affects the mental health of Indigenous people still today. 

“When it comes to individual psychology, it means a loss of identity, a loss of purpose, a sense of belonging, and who you are, what you’re supposed to do what you’re supposed to be about,” Gone said. ”In the context of colonial disruptions, a lot of Native people have experienced this sort of disorientation. And that gives rise to the importance of trying to reclaim a robust and proud cultural identity as an indigenous person.”

The presentation ended with Gone opening up a discussion based on questions from students and faculty who attended the meeting. The presentation was well received by the Manhattan College community. Elena Willoughby is a freshman art history major who attended Gone’s presentation on Tuesday.

“I specifically chose [to attend] the ‘American Indian Historical Trauma: A Conceptual Overview’ session because of how personally connected I feel to the issue itself,” Willoughby said.“At this stage in my life, I have become more wary of the deep-rooted effects of systemic racism in this society. It is quite literally everywhere if you look deep enough.”

The second event was held on Wednesday, Feb. 24 where staff and students attended a follow-up discussion to Dr. Gone’s presentation. The discussion, led by Roksana Badruddoja, Ph.D., and Danielle Young, Ph.D., was entitled “What Does It Mean to Decolonize Psychological Research? Identifying Methods and Practices.” 

Badruddoja is a faculty member of the department of sociology and affiliated faculty with the Women and Gender Studies program, and the Critical Race and Ethnicity Studies program. The other co-host, Young, is a faculty member for the department of psychology. 

The conversation further explored psychology within racial relationships and whether psychology as a discipline adequately addresses issues faced by colonized groups like American Indians.

Badruddoja opened the talk by describing her definition of trauma. 

“I craft trauma to mean an internal response to overwhelming pain, brief hurt, scare irreparable heartbreak, a horrific experience that can’t be processed at the moment, and or overtime, right across a single lifespan and or across generations,” Badruddoja said.

The importance of trauma and the response to it can affect how people form appropriate relationships. Badruddoja describes how communication is the key to healing trauma. 

“My response then is connectivity and communication are salient facets of trauma healing work,” Badruddoja said. “It’s not about saving people, and it’s definitely not about implementing theories and techniques as an expert…. Rather, it’s about listening with all of our senses and our entire body to the story that is unfolding. And particularly how the person is making sense of their experience.”

The discussion continued with Young’s psychological perspective on Gone’s talk about how historical trauma is linked to suffering. 

“Dr. Gone noted that there were some really strong outcomes of thinking about historical trauma. As a more or less, I would say a literal thing to serve as a tool to legitimize suffering, and to minimize the need for repair,” Young said. 

Young and Badruddoja agree that to decolonize psychological research the identifying methods and practices are to focus on the trauma and reconnect within our own community to start the healing process. 

“I think our communities need to engage in healing and reconnect with our ancestral ways within our own communities,” Badruddoja said. 

As a way to connect with others amid COVID-19 restrictions, the event was online. Due to the panel discussion being held via Google Meet, participants such as Willoughby were able to share their thoughts on the format of the event and the topics discussed. 

“Personally, I found the online format to be a great quality of the event, as it allowed for an even flow of conversation between the speakers and the audience,” Willoughby said. 

The online format allowed for more students to have the ability to be more candid and honest during the discourse. 

“Functions such as the chat mechanic allow for the audience to not feel like they are interrupting the conversation. Even the ability to speak with your camera off is huge to me, especially since I asked a question at the end of the event with my camera off. In those moments after, I felt so much less judgment to express my words than I would have in most public events.” Willoughby said. 

This Peace Week discussion panel also sparked deeper psychological questions as to how to craft American Indian responses to historical oppression and ongoing disadvantages in society.

“Dr. Young posed a thought-provoking question that still resonates with me every time I think about it: “Is decolonization possible when the settlers are still here?” Willoughby said. “That is a question that I think every American citizen should have in the back of their heads within this discourse. I will end by saying this: gatekeeping indigenous-based psychological research does nothing but further suppress their generational traumas.”