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Cherokee Generational Recovery through the Acknowledgment of Historical Pain: Living Beyond Genocide

Generational transmission of trauma refers to the transmission of the effects of trauma from one generation to the next. This can occur in any culture, but in Native American culture, the impact of trauma has been particularly severe and long-lasting due to the historical trauma inflicted upon Native American communities by settler colonialism.

The Cherokee Nation is a Native American tribe that has been deeply affected by the intergenerational transmission of trauma. The Cherokee Nation, like many other Native American tribes, has a long history of trauma that stems from the forced removal and relocation of Native American peoples from their ancestral lands

One of the most significant sources of trauma for the Cherokee Nation was the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which resulted in the forced removal of thousands of Cherokee families from their ancestral lands in the southeastern United States to the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). This process, known as the Trail of Tears, resulted in thousands of Cherokee individuals’ deaths and profoundly impacted the survivors and their descendants.

One study found that Cherokee individuals who had experienced historical trauma were more likely to report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues, as well as higher rates of substance abuse and other health problems. Another study found that exposure to historical trauma was associated with increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors among Cherokee adolescents

The impact of trauma on the Cherokee Nation is not limited to the individual level. The intergenerational transmission of trauma can also have negative impacts on community functioning and cohesion. One study found that historical trauma was associated with lower levels of social connectedness and community cohesion in Cherokee communities.

It is important to acknowledge the ongoing impact of trauma on the Cherokee Nation and to address the needs of those affected by trauma. This can include providing mental health and traditional healing services and support for individuals, as well as addressing the social and economic inequities that contribute to the perpetuation of trauma and resiliance-building factors like chosen family, spirituality and service to the community.


  • Brave Heart, M. Y. H., & DeBruyn, L. M. (1998). The American Indian holocaust: Healing historical unresolved grief. American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research, 8(2), 60-82.
  • Brave Heart, M. Y. H., & DeBruyn, L. M. (2001). The historical trauma response among Natives and its relationship with substance abuse: A Lakota illustration. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 33(2), 181-189.
  • Garbarino, J., Kostelny, K., & Dubrow, N. (1991). What children can tell us about living in danger: The impact of community violence on young children. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Gaskin, C., Yellow Bird, M., & Brave Heart, M. Y. H. (2006). Historical trauma, intergenerational trauma, and HIV risk behaviors among American Indian young adults. AIDS Education and Prevention, 18(6), 511-524

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