In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Native American Hip-Hop and Historical TraumaSurviving and Healing Trauma on the “Rez”
  • Carrie Louise Sheffield (bio)

The music of both artists discussed in this paper, as well as that of many other Native American hip-hop artists, can be found at Maniac: The Siouxpernatural and Night Shield are also now available on iTunes.

Genocide and Historical Trauma

In light of recent world events, such as those in Rwanda and Darfur, most people perceive genocide to be simply the destruction of a people through physical extermination alone; however, in reality it entails far more than mass murder. Genocide, the UN contends, includes not only the “[k]illing [of] members of the group,” but also “[c]ausing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; . . . [d]eliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; . . . [i]mposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; . . . [and] [f]orcibly transferring children of the group to another group” (emphasis mine). Genocide is a psychological as well as physiological attack on humanity that has far-reaching effects on survivors and their descendants. As part of the machinery of colonization, genocide is instrumental in the creation and perpetuation of historical trauma.

Native Americans have faced the deaths of their peoples through wars, the intentional and unintentional spread of disease, and even the placing of bounties on Native American skins.1 Likewise, the forced removal of many Native American peoples to reservations far [End Page 94] from traditional homelands, the removal of Native American children to the Indian schools across the United States, as well as the sterilization of Native American men and women, clearly fall under the aegis of genocide. Further complicating the issue is the American popular media, which, through artificial representations of Native American identity and history, redefine Native Americans as simplistic and failing stereotypes that further erode Native American self-confidence and identity.

Acts of genocide such as these, Bonnie Duran, Eduardo Duran, and Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart argue, create a succession of traumas from one generation to the next, and ensuing generations are doubly traumatized (61). In settler colonies such as the United States, where the colonizing forces have not left, these traumas are continuously reinforced by a dominant culture that often reconstructs Native American peoples into artificial images such as the “savage” or “dying breed,” creating what Ron Eyerman identifies as “cultural trauma.” Historical traumas move beyond physical and psychological damage done to the individual and include “the dramatic loss of identity and meaning, a tear in the social fabric, affecting a group of people that has achieved some degree of cohesion. In this sense, the trauma need not be necessarily felt by everyone in a community or experienced directly by any or all” (2).

Duran, Duran, and Brave Heart further illustrate that historical traumas such as the loss of land and sovereignty, coupled with various governmental practices and long-term genocide, “systematically [attack] the core of identity—language and the family” (61). This conjunction of colonial-historical trauma can be the most damaging in that it works to dissociate individuals from the very things that could help them confront such traumas: memory and the community. Being separated from a strong Indigenous foundation for the construction of identity, these individuals often have nowhere to turn except to the very settler society that seeks to reconstruct them as problematic tropes like the “savage” or “dying breed.” In an interview with Laura Coltelli, Linda Hogan comments on the colonial elision of Native American identity, stating that, at one time, “I thought about my family that we were the last in our blood group, [End Page 95] the last Indian people—which wasn’t true at all—but at the time I thought of Indian people as vanishing and that our stories and histories were disappearing. In some ways I got that idea from public education, from white education. They want us to believe that we don’t exist” (72).

Native American authors such as Hogan are clearly aware of the relationship between the history of genocide in the United States and historical trauma. Take...


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pp. 94-110
Launched on MUSE
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