The Soul Wound & Historical Trauma among Indigenous Peoples

In a recent DM, I referred to the work of Donna Schindler and her book, Flying Horse: Stories of Healing the Soul Wound.  Since then she has gifted me with a recent talk she shared with a group of Navajo people about what she has learned over the years from Indigenous healers and her own decades of living among indigenous peoples.  She has given me permission to share that talk with you, HERE.

Donna Schindler, Kayenta psychiatrist, speaks in 2014 about historical trauma and how it affects the Kayenta community.

I took notes on listening to it and will share some of the principal themes in this DM.  This discussion and our recent DM’s grew from the news that Pope Francis apologized to the first peoples of Canada for the abuses in church sponsored boarding schools and is planning a trip to Canada to do so in person on the land itself.

Donna asks the question: Who would steal kids from parents with guns in hand to take them to boarding schools?  The historical trauma of the Navajo actually began with the Long Walk—a 9000-mile trek in 1862 over four years when one half of the people died along the way. 

 One mechanism the brain has to protect from trauma is to shut down one’s memory and feelings and avoid talking about “the bad stuff.”  Yet the bad things from the past still affect people.   

Antonia Hylton interviews adult survivors of government-funded boarding schools meant to forcibly assimilate Native American children. MSNBC

A Native American psychologist who became Donna’s teacher called this “the soul wound.”  Children suffer deeply because raising little children is very hard in these circumstance when one is not feeling one’s feelings. 

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder follows individuals and tribes with symptoms like nightmares, anxiety, diabetes, anger, lack of sleep or inability to eat. “Intergenerational grief” happens.

Lateral oppression is another product of historical trauma.  If you’ve been treated very badly, often you hurt others.  A kind of identification with the oppressor can occur where you too become a bully, a way of moving from being weak to being strong and powerful. 

Singer/poet/activist Lyla June, survivor of childhood gender violence and addiction, sings to honor Traditional Diné faith elders and support the Native American Community Academy DSIA project helping prevent substance abuse and youth suicide. 

Other symptoms can include sexual abuse and incest and people doing things unconsciously. 

What can one do about it?  First is to sit with it and “let it percolate.”  Once you become aware, a path might open up.  Second is to talk about issues, “what happened to me,” etc.  From this individual and family and community healing can occur.  Writing poetry and sharing it is important.  “Poetry saved many young people.”  By telling your story you come to realize that you are not alone.

See D. Schindler, MD, Flying Horse: Stories of Healing the Soul Wound.  

Donna Schindler speaks on her work in historical trauma HERE.

Also see Matthew Fox, Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: “Indigenous Surge.” Indigenous dancers led the way for 10,000 marchers protesting the graves of children found at Canadian residential schools. Toronto, 6/6/2021. Photo by Michael Swan on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you find insight in these teachings about historical trauma and soul wounds?  What comes next?

Recommended Reading

Flying Horse: Stories of Healing the Soul Wound
By Donna Schindler, MD; Foreword by Matthew Fox

A white psychiatrist shares the truths she has learned about historical trauma in this book which has been called ‘prophetic’ by Reverend Matthew Fox. Starting with her childhood in South Texas and Bermuda, she takes us on a journey during which she had to confront her own racial biases and denial of the truth in order to work as a cross-cultural psychiatrist with a Maori mental health team in New Zealand, the Navajo Nation and California Native Americans.

Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth

Fox’s spirituality weds the healing and liberation found in North American Creation Spirituality and in South American Liberation Theology. Creation Spirituality challenges readers of every religious and political persuasion to unite in a new vision through which we learn to honor the earth and the people who inhabit it as the gift of a good and just Creator.
“A watershed theological work that offers a common ground for religious seekers and activists of all stripes.” — Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice.

Responses are welcomed. To add your comment, please click HERE or scroll to the bottom of the page.

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12 thoughts on “The Soul Wound & Historical Trauma among Indigenous Peoples”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, You ask us today in our “Queries for Contemplation”: “Do you find insight in these teachings about historical trauma and soul wounds? ” I do find insight in the linking of what we put the indigenous people of this country through, as well as what we put the slaves we took from Africa through. And the Jews have experienced this kind of trauma almost everywhere they have lived in the world.
    Then you ask, “What comes next?” We must do the right thing!–and though we may not know what that is now, we need to find out very soon, and make the changes in our country, to show that we really do stand for justice.

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    Isabel Stanley

    Thank you, Matthew, for your insights on soul wounds that afflict both victims and perpetrators: those who separate indigenous children from their parents and those separated, the enslaver and the enslaved. So much wounding. The young Russian soldier who prods the elderly Ukrainian woman with his rifle butt and curses at the young mother and her toddler to move faster knows the old woman could be his grandmother and the young woman his sister who also has a small child who can’t walk fast, but he prods and curses, prods and curses, and may yet do worse. So many wounds and so much to heal.

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    Jeanette Metler

    I personally and totally identified with the teachings within today’s DM. As Mathew has stated, the historical trauma and soul wounding that humanity is suffering, is in truth one collective trauma, one collective soul wound in need of healing. If we are honest and vulnerably open to that which lies within our hearts, minds and souls… we soon see that everyone has trauma stories to tell and wounds to be healed, for no one has escaped the afflictions of being and living in this world of light and darkness, good and evil… which is of our own unconscious making.

    Often Mathew has linked Love and Justice together. Love’s desire is to alleviate this collective historical trauma and soul wounding… this is what the virtues of compassion and mercy means. Justice’s desire is for humanity to first see the truth, to speak the truth of this collective historical trauma and soul wounding… and then take responsibility and accountability for the part we, as a family of humanity have continued to inflict and perpetuate this collective historical trauma and soul wounding in our own lives, in our relationships with self, others and the all and the everything of creation.

    There is something deeper, something sacred, that lies beneath all of the collective trauma, soul wounding and the suffering, sorrow and pain within the collective unconscious of humanity, that longs too… to be seen… that longs to unfold, evolve and emerge from within the heart, mind and soul as well. Something that we are collectively in the midst of remembering and awakening to… together. There are archetypal and ancestral energies and entities that are here now, to help us through these healing pathways… that spiralling journey of the collective dark night of the soul… the Via Negativa… moving us deeper into the light of the Via Positiva, the finding of meaning in all of this trauma, soul wounding, suffering and sorrow… which then awakens us to the Via Creativa, the creative, life giving power of Love, Compassion and Mercy… which then results in the Via Transformativa, the transformation of the collective heart, mind and soul of humanity… a collective conscious awakening of really seeing who we are destined to become and be. Through these healing pathways, there is something deeper and sacred being remembered, which slowly begins to unfold, evolve and emerge. We are not alone, in any of this, but rather we are in this healing journey together… in the midst of it all, BEING LOVED… TO LOVE.

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    Matthew, thank you for another profound meditation on historical traumas and “soul wounds” suffered by past and present Indigenous and Black peoples, our sisters and brothers. On deeper spiritual reflection of our common humanity and all our spirit ancestors, our ongoing Universal Soul is still healing from our past traumas, as victims and perpetrators… Mother~Father Creator and Loving Creative Spirit within and among us is healing our evolving unique and Sacred Universal Souls through compassionate action with one another in Divine Loving Oneness….

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    Sadly mankind’s obsession with power and conquest has always led to genocide of innocents. We witness it played out across time, including now in Ukraine.
    #genocideofthemind included . . .

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    Historical trauma > epigenetic alteration of genetic responses that lead to generations of sickness in body, soul, and mind. It has done so in all marginalized groups—women of all backgrounds and ethnicities, native populations, immigrants, and the black community.
    “We,” as individuals are the first and only means of change. We can help by fighting the ubiquitous injustices around us on a personal and political level. We can contribute financially to worthy efforts to heal–I know someone whose son’s life was turned around through a court-ordered stint at a rehab center; a couple of times a year, she takes dozens of care packages to distribute among the inmates–soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste, sweaters–whatever she thinks they might need or enjoy or benefit from–because when she visited her son she saw that he was a distinct minority—most of the others never saw family or friends.
    For the last several years on the occasions when we normally receive gifts—birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, etc.—we asked for and received the gifts of donations to any reliable and worthy charity the givers want to remember. We’ve “received” the gift of a flock of chickens to an indigent family in Central America, a house for a family in Appalachia, books for a school in Africa, and many others.
    The unconscious repetition of abuse by victims is a known phenomenon, but somehow, through some Universal Grace, not every victim becomes an abuser—check out Mary Oliver!
    Blessings on Dr. Schindler and all her kind for their selfless efforts!

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Olive, Thank you for your comment of hope. And I too wish, “Blessings on Dr. Schindler and all her kind for their selfless efforts!” Amen!

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    As happens so often, these meditations and the meditations of Fr. Richard Rohr complement each other. He writes also of having to come together to bear the world’s and our own suffering. The last Center for Action and Contemplation CONSPIRE conference in the fall featured indigenous people speaking, playing music, and displaying art. It was after the revelation of the children’s mass graves in Canada. I was really struck by the statement that now we can all co-witness the sufferings that indigenous peoples have carried alone. That, along with social and political action, can be very healing for us all.

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    Dear Matt,
    Thank you so much for this meditation about soul wounds and the atrocity of boarding schools. It means a lot to me…
    A few years ago, before the pandemic, I attended a PowWow and weekend workshop led by Indigenous leaders. During lunch one day, myself and one of the elders ended up sharing a table together. He shared with me the terrible wounding he experienced as a child in a boarding school. I was amazed that he was neither angry nor bitter. I asked him how he could have gone through that horror, without being angry and bitter. He said: “It’s because I forgave them”.
    Kristal Parks

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    A few years ago I attended a conference by Anam Thubten, a Buddhist monk, who gave a dharma talk on ‘Embracing your pain and suffering.’ During the question and answer time at the end of the conference, I wrote a very long story about two male elders at a tribal gathering where historical trauma was the focus. Both of the elders spoke up and told very painful stories from their past which they had never spoken about before. Both men cried and said they had kept these feelings bottled up for decades. Then several young men spoke up and told their own stories of suffering. Initially Anam Thubten looked at my long question and put it down. After addressing the other questions, he picked up my letter and handed it to someone else to read out loud.

    “Is this what you meant by ’embracing your pain and suffering’, I wrote at the end of the page.
    To which Anam Thubten quickly replied, “So timely and relevant. We are all dancing to the same music!”

    I so very much appreciate Matthew sharing about historical trauma and the soul wound. I feel it has allowed us to dance to the same music.
    ‘Hozhonahaslii: Stories of Healing the Soul Wound’ is a video made on the Navajo Nation to help in the healing process. You can find it on youtube–five parts.
    Donna Schindler

  10. Avatar

    Thank You.
    As an African American of British/United States “Slave roots” I can relate to understanding “historical and intergenerational trauma; and its impact for the past and present generations.
    May God continue to Bless, during this healing process.

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    75 years old and many decades of pain and no understanding of the why! “Soul Wound” extends beyond the years and is ingrained and passed on in our DNA. The addictions to push away the tears and find a false peace that only worsen as time goes on…..

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