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Bigger than the individual: a nation not a tribe

by Margaret Stewart - Managing Editor
Tue, Nov 12th 2019 06:00 pm
Native American speaker, Ronnie Pollack discusses intergenerational trauma.
Native American speaker, Ronnie Pollack discusses intergenerational trauma.

November is traditionally Native American Heritage month and as such, Gender Equity Movement club hosted the Executive Director of the Native American Cultural Center, Ronnie Pollack, on Thursday, Nov. 7 to discuss her Native American ancestry. 

Acting as presenter and translator, Pollack introduced herself and explained a little bit about her background in order to set the tone for the rest of the night.

“I’m from Mississauga of the New Credit First Nation so that part of me is Anishinaabe and then I am also Mohawk as well.” Pollack said. “My grandmother’s Mohawk and we’re a matriarchal society so we go by whatever the mother is as opposed to a patriarchal society. But on the books, if you will, where I’m enrolled with this Mississauga the New Credit First Nation and that is Anishinaabe.”

Pollack’s presentation was on how to properly utilize and administer trauma informed care to Native Americans. The talk mostly centered around trauma and how each traumatic event is passed from generation to generation if it isn’t properly handled.

“Some of the intergenerational trauma is because, especially for Native Americans, unfortunately there are many, many intergenerational traumas that we deal with, and it has been known that our DNA has memory,” Pollack said. “So the DNA that resides within me comes from my grandmother and even ancestors beyond that, whatever traumas they had to endure, or go through. They’re [the traumas are] injected in that memory that now gets passed down all the way down to me.” 

Student at The College at Brockport Cinnamon Nolley is a part of the Tuscarora Nation which is a subsect of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, Nation. Nolley emphasized the importance of community within her culture explaining that every problem is dealt with as a group.

“Communal living and communal coexisting is really important,” Nolley said. “They definitely center any kind of personal illness or sickness or any kind of personal trauma that anyone had to be the responsibility of the community. So any personal illness was an illness in the community, for the community to solve.”

Identifying the contribution past traumas have generations later has helped Native Americans get better at treating each other and helping each other through the recovery process. The treatments aim to help the individual work through the problem in a way that won’t be accidentally damaging such as inadvertently re-living the experience without the aid of “colonized” influences.

“We now understand how the trauma permeates and encourage healing recovery rather than promoting services that may unintentionally re-traumatized,” Pollack said. “We consider not what is wrong with this person, but more what has happened to this person. Why would we expect the ones that created the trauma to have the ability, the knowledge and wisdom, to provide the treatment?”

One common point of trauma between different generations is the systemic oppression they were put through by both the American and Canadian governments in addition to the Catholic church. 

“As far as my education, education has been denied for native people for so long when it comes to or even reversed for native people when it comes to like native boarding schools,” Nolley said. “It was a way to abolish our culture and take us outside of our culture and try to assimilate us to the conquerors way of life.”

Though Nolley is second generation off of the reservation, her grandmother grew up there and was subjected to the trauma of the boarding schools.

“Native people have had to struggle to educate themselves in a positive way,” Nolley said. “You can do anything you want as a part of my family, but if you’re not going to school, that’s a problem because my grandmother went to a native boarding school, she had to educate herself. She was a part of schools becoming segregated. And then it took her 10 years to get her nursing degree, because of life and system problems that also arise from living on a reservation and living in poverty and having to develop outside of those spaces.”

Nolley’s sentiments were echoed by Pollack who talked about how Native American children, including her grandmother, were ripped away from their families who cut them off from their culture and ingrain in them the colonized way of life.

“The intention was essentially cultural genocide because they basically, ultimately, wanted assimilation,” Pollack said. “In order to get to assimilation, it meant that it ‘well we have to take away who they are as people. So let’s take away their language. Let’s take away all of their cultural identity. So they can just fall into the fold of the majority.”

Though abusive educational practices are no longer permitted, Nolley says notices that Eurocentric ideals and the white-washing of historical events is still present and prevalent in modern day classrooms. 

“I think that it’s made my cultural identity very ambiguous,” Nolley said. “My culture is not visible. People try to present things as a state of fact, where I feel like it’s Eurocentric rather than what was actually happening. They also present like taking over America’s as a necessary evil, which, obviously, I would disagree with.”

While some may be tempted to argue, the fact of the matter is that often the only education students get to Native American culture is in the month of November. Furthermore, this exposure is not in honor of Native American Heritage month, but Thanksgiving. This presents a problem in of itself. 

“We shouldn’t only be learning about native history in November,” Nolley said. “We shouldn’t only be learning about black history in February. Native and black histories are the backbone and foundation that America was built on and it should be taught at every step throughout the curriculum.”

Recently, President Donald Trump announced he wanted to strip November of Native American Heritage month and instead dedicate it to “National American History and Founders Month,” according to CNN. To Nolley, it is just another unsurprising move from the Trump administration.

“It’s just ironic because the founders of America are the Native Americans or the native people,” Nolley said. “If he is actually trying to call historical fact that he would still be celebrating native people, but it’s clearly just a way to capitalize on national holidays like Thanksgiving and steer the message away from raping and pillaging and pointing to manifest destiny. I think it’s ignorant, but it’s not surprising and  that’s unfortunately something that also comes with native culture is constantly being disappointed but not surprised by the treatment that we get in America. I think that comes with any group of like, people who are other in general in America.”

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Taken by Vinny Croce:
Staff Photographer

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