Using Indigenous Literature to Heal from Historical Trauma

By Angeline P. Hoffman, White Mountain Apache

Dr. Gregory Cajete, the editor of A People’s Ecology: Explorations in Sustainable Living, puts together many voices to focus on health and healing in Indigenous cultures. This book provides a substantial contribution to our knowledge of many subjects, including foods, food traditions and farming among Indigenous peoples; health problems resulting from the adoption of a “modern” diet by Native communities; efforts to restore the self-reproducing food plants that are the foundation of sustainable agriculture; permaculture and environmental restoration; the folk healing system known as curanderismo; the renaissance of ancient building practices; and organic foods retailers as activists.

Using Indigenous Literature to Heal from Historical Trauma

In the lives of the Indigenous Nations, health and healing is part of our daily living and a part of who we are. It is especially a part of the deep knowledge of our culture; our sense of place; our life; and how to relate to all this to heal from historical trauma. The following Indigenous literature touches on the theme of healing. These titles represent just a portion of available literature. All the descriptions are taken from the publishers’ promotional material unless otherwise noted.

Historical Trauma and Healing
The following titles focus on reflection of the shared historical trauma experienced by many Indigenous tribes and how we as a culture can heal, physically and mentally, to become whole again.

Children Left Behind: The Dark Legacy of Indian Mission Boarding Schools, by Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
Publisher: Clear Light Publishing
Age Level: 14-18
Tim Giago weaves memoir, commentary, reflection and poetry together to boldly illustrate his often horrific experiences as a child at an Indian Mission boarding school run by the Catholic Church.

Food Is Medicine: Recovering Traditional Foods to Heal the People, by Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe), and Sarah Alexander
Publisher: White Earth Land Recovery Project
Honor The Earth
Age Level: (Not Specified)
Provides an overview of the agricultural and health issues faced by the indigenous peoples as a result of the colonization of their land and culture. Advocates repairing traditional food systems as a way to heal as a community. (Description created for this post.)

Green March Moons, by Mary Tallmountain (Koyukon) illustrated by Joseph E. Senungetuk (Koyukon)
Publisher: New Seed Press
Age Level: 14-18
Green March Moons examines the traumatic story of an 11 year old girl dealing with incest, rape and other experiences. (Description created for this post.)

Healing the Hurts (DVD)
Director: Four Worlds International Institute for Human and Community Development
Age Level: (Not Specified)
This dynamic and heartfelt video documents the devastating effects of the Indian boarding schools that dramatically shattered aboriginal culture, children, families and communities throughout North America.

A People’s Ecology: Explorations in Sustainable Living, by Gregory Cajete (Tewa), ed.
Publisher: Clear Light Publishing
Age Level: (Not Provided)
The writers examine the underlying ecology of sustainable living rooted in the historical traditions, environmental practices, and a sense of place of peoples of the Southwest; and they describe the impact that disruption of this way of life continues to have on health, well-being, communal identity.

Children’s Books
The titles below explain to children how to take care of their physical and mental health in a way that honors Indigenous culture.

American Indian Contributions to the World (5-Volume Set), by Emory Dean Keoke (Lakota) and Kay Marie Porterfield
Publisher: Infobase Publishing
Age Level: 8-10
This fascinating new five-volume collection introduces young readers to the many important scientific, architectural, agricultural, and technological advances and discoveries made by American Indians throughout history.

Dancing with the Cranes (Caring For Me Series), by Jeannette Armstrong (Okanagan)
Publisher: Theytus Books
Age Level: 3-5
Chi’s momma and daddy help ease the pain of losing Temma and help Chi to understand life and death as a part of nature.

Eat, Run, and Live Healthy (Caring For Me Series), by Karen Olson (Cree/Anishinaabe)
Publisher: Theytus Books
Age Level: 3-5
Nurse Ellen’s use of pictures and fun activities helps the children learn about the importance of healthy foods.

Eyes, Ears, Nose, and Mouth (Caring For Me Series), by Karen Olson (Cree/Anishinaabe)
Publisher: Theytus Books
Age Level: 3-5
Helps young children understand the importance of taking care of their bodies. (Description created for this post.)

Grandma’s Special Feeling, by Karin Clark
Publisher: The Division
Age Level: 8-10
Grandma uses key moments to teach her grandchildren about the relationships between the First Nations and agriculture. (Description created for this post.)

Healthy Choices, Healthy Lives (Caring For Me Series), by Karen Olson (Cree/Anishinaabe)
Publisher: Theytus Books
Age Level: 3-5
The family of a young boy answers his questions about drug and alcohol abuse and the importance of making healthy choices to break the cycle. (Description created for this post.)

Little Bear’s Vision Quest, by Diane Silvey (Coast Salish) Illustrations by Joe Silvey (Coast Salish)
Publisher: First Nations Education Division, Greater Victoria School District #61
Age Level: 8-10
A young bear learns the lesson of respect, honor, and wisdom with the help of his elders and ancestors. (Description created for this post.)

Looking After Me (Caring For Me Series), by Denise Lecoy (Okanogan)
Publisher: Theytus Books
Age Level: 3-5
A sweet story about a young Quail who learns life lessons about laughing, crying, anger, hurt, happiness, fear, trust, love and standing up for one self.

Proud to Be Inuvialuit, by James Pokiak (Inuvialuit) and Mindy Willett, Photography by Tessa Macintosh
Publisher: Fifth House
Age: 8-12
Join James and Rebecca and learn about how the beluga whale is interlinked with Inuvialuit culture and history.

Literary Cookbooks
These cookbooks present recipes specific to several Indigenous tribes and also includes both custom and etymological information.

Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions, by Fernando and Marlene Divina
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Age Level: (Not Specified)
Features indigenous ingredients and recipes of different tribes from the Americas. (Description created for this post.)

Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations, by Lois Ellen Frank (Kiowa)
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Age Level: (Not Specified)
Highlights more than 100 recipes from the Indigenous tribes located in the geographic area of the Southwest United States. (Description created for this post.)

Idonapshe Let’s Eat: Traditional Zuni Foods, by Rita Edaakie
Publisher: University of New Mexico Press
Age Level: (Not Specified)
Focuses on the food traditions of the Indigenous Zuni tribe located in the Pueblo of Zuni along the Zuni river in present day New Mexico. (Description created for this post.)

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