Cultural Healing: When Cultural Renewal is Reparative and When is it Toxic



An Excerpt


Cultural Renewal: Healing or Toxic?

As a doctoral student at Harvard University in the 1990s, I was interested in explaining why so many of our Indigenous relatives continue to struggle under the yoke of poverty. I found many explanations but it soon became clear to me that not enough economists were looking at the effects of longstanding collective trauma on Indigenous peoples. I argued in my dissertation that unresolved collective trauma continues to reverberate in our communities with devastating outcomes, and that to alleviate poverty we must address these underlying issues of collective trauma. Moreover, I argued that healing collective trauma necessitates cultural and spiritual renewal — of institutions, narratives, relationships — as well as healing individuals, so that, at a minimum, trauma is not reproduced into the next generation. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the notion of cultural renewal can be as dangerous as it can be rehabilitative. In the past, many revival efforts by Indigenous peoples ended tragically, like the Ghost Dance and the brutal December 29, 1890 Massacre of Wounded Knee. The soldiers that mowed down women and children that day were envoys of a government that neither understood the pain nor cared about the deep yearnings of Native peoples, and feared these sorts of spontaneous attempts at healing the gaping collective wound.

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