Decolonizing trauma

There is a concept in justice work that oppressed communities should not be asked to teach others about their situation.

So how can White people learn about indigenous solutions? An obvious way is to listen to indigenous people discussing their ideas. But where can we find opportunities for that without being burdensome?

The online SHIFT the Narrative discussions are an excellent way. I’ve learned a great deal from these interviews. One of the most profound things I’ve personally learned as I listen to these women leaders is how it feels, for a change, to not be the gender that is in control of the conversation. The next presentation is TODAY. Register here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_BtSNxkiVSWGl_Dr7rbMnUg

I recently wrote about the concept of narrative shift and how effectively these SHIFT the Narrative discussions use this technique.

When you gather passionate and dedicated voices that have become so accustomed to being spoken tospoken for and spoken about, then a different story begins to emerge.

From Paradigm Shift to Narrative Shift. Who is telling the education change story? by: Stephen Hurley, EdCan Network, November 4, 2011

This morning I came across some articles about decolonizing trauma, which made me more aware of how significant these SHIFT the Narrative discussions are. “Native women’s personal narrative explored the racialized, gendered, and sexual nature of their colonization. In doing so, they transformed the debilitating force of an old social control, shame, into a social change agent in their generation.”

And I think the second quote below is very insightful about pitfalls of efforts to heal. “A healing movement for boarding school survivors was being created that did not actually create space for survivors.


In this essay I make the case for remembering and understanding the impact of Canadian First Nation women’s first-person and experiential narrative on white, mostly male mainstream scholarship. I argue that these narratives were political acts in themselves that in their time exploded the measured “objective” accounts of Canadian (and U.S.) colonial histories. First Nations women in Canada changed the actual conditions for what could be said about the poverty and discrimination that were their daily fare. 

It is these women’s acknowledgment of their actual experiences that illuminated a space for both men and women to speak one of colonialism’s nastiest “domestic” secrets. First Nation men’s and women’s personal testimony in the early 1990s put Canada in an international spotlight for genocidal child abuse spanning a century. Their personal testimonies shamed Canadians’ simple belief in the benign nature of their child education–assimilation policies. But their stories hadn’t magically appeared. They were at the heart of the struggle. Native women’s personal narrative explored the racialized, gendered, and sexual nature of their colonization. In doing so, they transformed the debilitating force of an old social control, shame, into a social change agent in their generation. I explore here their sixth sense about the moral affective heart of capitalism and colonialism as an analysis. A felt analysis is one that creates a context for a more complex “telling,” one that illuminates the deeper meaning of their “education” in Canada.

 Felt Theory: An Indigenous Feminist Approach to Affect and History
Dian Million, Wicazo Sa Review, University of Minnesota Press
Volume 24, Number 2, Fall 2009

I was part of a larger collective that organized human rights/legal training for Native boarding school survivors. Frequently, survivors would drive hundreds of miles to attend, at considerable expense, because they really wanted this information. But when they arrived at the training, flashbacks from their years of boarding school abuse prevented them from walking through the door.

A healing movement for boarding school survivors was being created that did not actually create space for survivors.

In my years of organizing in the anti-violence movement, these experiences taught me that by privatizing healing, we were building a movement that continued to structurally marginalize survivors.

Of course, since we continued to have problems, we continued to destroy our own organizing efforts internally with no space to talk about what was going on. Indigenous organizer Heather Milton-Lightning once prophetically declared at an Indigenous Women’s Network gathering many years ago that our movements were shunning people who might have issues like substance abuse. She called on us all to embrace whoever wants to be part of our movements as they are rather than as who we think they should be.

The challenge for us, she noted, was to build movement structures around the people we really are. These movements have demonstrated that historical trauma impacts us on the individual and collective level. We cannot decolonize without centering the impact of trauma in our organizing. Rather than privatize our traumas, how can we rearticulate trauma as place from which to develop what Million calls “felt theory” – a place from which to understand our social and political conditions?

DECOLONIZING TRAUMA by Andrea Smith, Sojourners, Sept 19, 2016

#SeedingSovereignty #SHIFT

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