By: Paula Ruiz
The recent world events that have cast light into the insidious problems of systemic racism and oppression of Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Colour, have prompted me to reflect on topic of historical trauma.
Historical trauma refers to “a complex and collective trauma experienced over time and across generations by a group of people who share an identity, affiliation, or circumstance”. It is a mass trauma that is deliberately and systematically inflicted upon a target group by a subjugating, or dominant group. Trauma continues over extended period of time. This type of trauma has severe physical, psychological, social and economic impacts on generations.
The concept of historical trauma has been used to describe a number of negative experiences including those of slavery, colonization of Indigenous groups around the world, experiences of peoples that have undergone genocide or war, systemic racial oppression and many others.
Historical traumas leave a legacy of deep emotional and mental health challenges. During my PhD studies in anthropology, I conducted research among Indigenous women in post- genocide Guatemala. Women in my research described many adverse consequences of the traumas their communities had endured. These manifestations, at both individual and community levels, included: mistrust of others; underdeveloped regulation skills; somatic disturbances; flashbacks; anxiety and terror; shame, guilt, self-hatred; cognitive distortions; deep sadness and depression; passivity; dissociation; disturbed relatedness; detachment, numbing or withdrawal; drug and alcohol abuse; suicide; anger; hyper-vigilance and mental illness; among many others.
The women I worked with also described the traumas as being layered on top of the historical traumas of colonization, displacement from their communities, structural inequalities, marginalization, racism and exclusion.
There are many other consequences of historical trauma I cannot fully capture in this short piece. Historical traumas impact systems of meaning, how people relate to others, and perception of self, community and the world.
The consequences of historical traumas are too serious to overlook. Today, we have the opportunity to look inwards and outwards and ask ourselves, what actions can we take to address historical traumas, particularly systemic racism?
At the individual level, it may mean introspective work addressing the impact of historical trauma on our psyches, lives and families. And how our actions might contribute to systems of inequity and privilege. At a community and larger scale, it may mean taking part in collective actions aimed at eradicating racism and other forms oppression in our societies.
Our actions today will have an impact on generations to come. What do we want that impact to be?
To take part in actions to address the historical trauma of racial oppression of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour in Canada, check out this link: https://blacklivesmatter-canada.carrd.co/
 Mohatt, N. V., Thompson, A. B., Thai, N. D., & Tebes, J. K. (2014). Historical trauma as public narrative: a conceptual review of how history impacts present-day health. Social science & medicine (1982), 106, 128–136. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.01.043
 Mandley, A. (2018) Cultural and Historical Traumas: Invisible Barriers to Healing and Change. PESI Inc.