Breaking the Silence: Native Americans & Historical Trauma

Donna Schindler is a psychiatrist and author of  Flying Horse: Stories of Healing the Soul Wound (to which I wrote a Foreword).  Recently, when Pope Francis apologized to Canadian First Peoples, she wrote the following article.  We first met at meetings with indigenous peoples protesting Serra’s canonization several years ago.  I remember an indigenous elder saying to me, “if the Pope canonizes Serra, he will be making war with indigenous peoples the world over.”  Sadly, Serra was canonized. 

As we have been considering, there are times for silence; but there are also times for speaking out and breaking silence.


For Native Americans, Historical Trauma is Deadly

By Donna Schindler
Republished with the author’s permission

The Pope’s recent apology to Canadian natives sharply contrasts with the lack of apology to descendants of the California missions and subsequent canonization of Junipero Serra.

On April 1, 2022, Pope Francis delivered a formal apology on Friday at the Vatican for the grave harm caused by Canada’s harrowing residential school system. Global News

I have been a psychiatrist for nearly four decades and have worked with indigenous people in New Zealand, the Navajo Nation and California.  For the last 25 years, I have been trying to help native communities heal from intergenerational trauma. For colonized indigenous people throughout the world, the unhealed trauma of the past is passed down from generation to generation resulting in epidemic rates of depression, suicide, domestic violence, substance abuse and illnesses.  

Like many California residents, I didn’t know much about the history of the missions. Then one day, in 2007, my colleague Joyce Gonzales leaned over to me during one of our community historical trauma groups at a Native American clinic and whispered, “You know, Donna, the Indians were slaves in the missions.” 

I had never heard that before. 

Valentin Lopez discusses the California missions and the canonization of Junipero Serra. Donna Schindler.

I began visiting the missions and reading all I could about them, looking for any trace of the Indians that had built them and lived in them. While visiting Mission San Diego, I felt compelled to tell the only other person there, a white man, that the Indians hadn’t been treated well at the missions. 

Without so much as a pause, he replied, “It’s because they had to wear shoes.” 

Lack of knowledge amongst otherwise educated people regarding Native American history is shocking.

At Mission Carmel there is only one place that mentions the Indians. It’s a room with a nondescript map entitled “The Indians.” There is a star with a line drawn to it. Nothing else. No note in the cemetery of the Indians who had built the mission and died there. 

Since 2008, Bishop Francis Quinn has been part of a team informing the Vatican of the abuses of the California missions, under Fr. Junipero Serra…with no answer other than an occasional acknowledgement of messages received. Donna Schindler.

I met Bishop Francis Quinn in 2007, just after reading an article about a homily he gave to the Miwok Indians, commemorating the 190th anniversary of the founding of Mission San Rafael Archangel, north of San Francisco. Quinn apologized to the Indians for the mistreatment they received at the hands of the Franciscans. 

The Indians wept. Greg Sarris, their tribal chairman, told the Associated Press that the apology was “unprecedented.”  

To be continued


See Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Postdenominational Priest, pp. 141, 144f., 154, 192, 224, 260, 279f., 373-76, 443f.

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

Banner Image: Mosaic of St Junipero Serra, ‘Apostle of California’, is depicted in a mosaic above the north arch of the East Portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception just a few feet from where Pope Francis was seated at the Canonization Mass for Serra Flickr. Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P., on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you agree that silence is sometimes God-like; but sometimes it is radically inappropriate? 


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11 thoughts on “Breaking the Silence: Native Americans & Historical Trauma”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    To help moderate the volume of responses, the Comment field is limited to 1000 characters (roughly 200 words). Please keep your comments focused on the topic of the day’s Meditation. 
    As always, we look forward to your comments!!
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  2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you speak to us about Donna Schindler, who is a psychiatrist and author of Flying Horse: Stories of Healing the Soul Wound which speaks of the “First Peoples” or indigenous peoples of the world. After Pope Francis’ visit and apology to the First People of Canada, it seems strange to both Schindler and Bishop Francis Quinn that Pope Francis apologized to the Canadians, but not to the Native Americans of California who built the Missions under slave-like circumstances under Fr. Junipero Serra. You ask us today: “Do you agree that silence is sometimes God-like; but sometimes it is radically inappropriate?” Yes, because there are times for silence as we walk the Via Negativa; but there are also times for speaking out and breaking silence–and that is when we are walking the Via Transfornmativa–that is when we need to be mystic-prophets and work for justice.

  3. Avatar

    Like politics and religion, silence has its dark side, especially in crises where action becomes a moral imperative. As for the evils of politics and religion, look no further in U.S. history than its Vatican supported politics of “Manifest Destiny,” the 1800’s notion that this country was destined by God to expand its dominion across the entire N. American continent, using the name of providence to exterminate native peoples. This toxic (and unowned) side of American ideology still exists, but in a more global sense. Evidence the number of pre-emptive wars our shadow government has engaged in since WWII to support its lucrative military-industrial war machine. Says here, a nation founded on the evils of the slave trade, genocide of its indigenous peoples, flexing of its military muscles, and far-right politics indeed has a manifest destiny – on the wrong side of history. For those interested in the biblical timeline for history, investigate the term “Whore of Babylon,” a term for that powerful wealthy nation that “sits on many waters” prophesized to play a key role in apocalyptic times.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Joe, Your comment left us with this cryptic remark: “For those interested in the biblical timeline for history, investigate the term ‘Whore of Babylon,’ a term for that powerful wealthy nation that ‘sits on many waters’ prophesized to play a key role in apocalyptic times.” Interestingly enough, When Luther broke off with the Church the wood cut artist, Albrecht Durer made a whole set of woodcuts on the book of Revelation. In it he makes the “Whore of Babylon” the Papacy, and the seven hills it dwells upon, Rome–though some through the ages have made Hitler, Stalin, Gorbachev (he even had a mark on his head) and Saddam Hussein (he was the ruler of what used to be Babylon. I could go on and on but why ???

  4. Avatar

    Thank you, Matthew!
    So many silences around genocides and other forms of systematic violence need to be broken! It can feel overwhelming. But I have a feeling that if we can, if we will, break the silences around the brutal abuses and murders of indigenous peoples, as Matthew does, then the ice of sick denial will melt a bit, and it will get a little easier (never easy, ) to break all the other silences. Not that we don’t have a daily urgent need to break the silences of all forms of sexism, homophobia, racism, and many more, as much as we possibly can, but when we focus on getting the truth out about the outrageous historical abuse of indigenous people in California and other states, I think we gain powerful access to healing the heart of what is now called the United States.

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    Bishop Francis Quinn served our community in Sacramento for two decades. He lived up to his chosen namesake, Francis, in always speaking up and out on behalf of the marginalized. He modeled Christ for the rest of us no matter our religious background.

  6. Avatar

    I appreciate the connection being made in todays DM… between the mystic and the prophet… relating to silence… and what often takes place during these silent moments of solitude with God… which is revelation. This revelation of Godly insight and wisdom penetrates the human heart… revealing all that which is often hidden in the recesses of the unconscious… bringing this into conscious awareness. The Divine light of truth… rooted in love, compassion and mercy… exposes… breaking into the unspoken, unacknowledged darkness of the Via Negativa within humanity. As painful as this slow and arduous process is… it is the necessary step of breaking the silence, of cracking open the hardened human heart needed… in order for Spirit to begin the healing… through the paths of the Via Positiva, and the Via Creativa which leads to the Via Transformativa… to further unfold, evolve and emerge. It deeply saddens me, that the Catholic Church deems the mystical and prophetic aspects of these spiritual pathways as heretical… choosing instead an archaic notion of canonization… rooted in a false illusion of what it truly is to be sanctified as a saint.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, I agree with what you say, when you say: “It deeply saddens me, that the Catholic Church deems the mystical and prophetic aspects of these spiritual pathways as heretical… choosing instead an archaic notion of canonization… rooted in a false illusion of what it truly is to be sanctified as a saint.” If you google the number of Catholic saints, you will find that it says over 10,000. In finding Hildegard, Aquinas, Eckhart and Julian and a few others, like Francis, Mechtild, and St. John of the Cross, Creation Spirituality has its saints. I however, decided to read of other saints to find out if there were other creation saints. What I have found however, is oftentimes Saints were made of sons or daughters of kings and noblemen who the people felt were especially holy. I however see an ulterior motive in making ones leaders, saints. Sounds like “simony”…

  7. Avatar

    Yes, Matthew, out of inward Silence, God’s Spirit of Love~Wisdom~Truth~Justice~Healing~Peace~Reconciliation~Resurrection… often moves us to be aware, speak, and act the Truth of past and present injustices of humanity to one another. In the evolution of our human souls, with our ancestors, we have all been victims and oppressors who need Divine Healing Love… The Catholic Church has been one of many patriarchal institutions in our past human history for thousands of years of unbalanced, toxic, and destructive patriarchal societies which have been especially destructive and caused immense suffering to Sacred Mother Nature, Her creatures and graceful resources, indigenous peoples, women and children… We all collectively (collective unconscious) carry these wounds of our ancestors. Several spiritual traditions that believe in reincarnation and karma explain that this is why our souls return to continue evolving with-in the Divine Loving Wisdom Feminine Spirit of Compassion~Mercy~Oneness….
    ?❤️??

  8. Avatar

    If we make regular use of practices like centering prayer, for example, it seems to me that we can find the inner silence that helps us be able to discern when outer silence is radically inappropriate, which to me is whenever injustice occurs. I grew up in the late 1940’s and -50’s, when it was common to hear disparaging remarks about people of color and Native Americans and Jews and when derogatory names were attached to people of all backgrounds. It was not unusual to hear that the only good Indian was a dead Indian. For a good insight into the plight of our indigenous brothers and sisters, I recommend the Great Course’s series of lectures, “Native People of North America”. Leonard Peltier is the most famous Native American who is still in prison since the 1970’s, even though the trial was demonstrable flawed. We might ask why that is.

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