Historical Trauma: What Is It?

Aliyah Sarmiento - Teen Aspect - August 2nd, 2022
(Medical News Today, 2022) [1]

On August 3rd, 1492, history was made when Christopher Columbus began his voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. He would later make landfall in the Americas just two months later. This marked only the beginning of his future violent ventures that resulted in the eventual conquests of Native Americans and numerous Indigenous tribes across South and Central America. From bringing diseases, exploiting resources, and wiping out tribe after tribe, the wound Columbus and many others alike left within these marginalized groups is one that has yet to heal, even in present-day. [2]

Despite such events taking place centuries ago, many cultures all over the world experience what is called historical trauma. Historical trauma is a form of intergenerational trauma that is “experienced by a specific cultural, racial or ethnic group.” [3] Some more widely known events that continue this cycle for numerous people include the Holocaust, slavery, and colonization. All of these instances stemmed from a place of heartlessness and lack of respect from the aggressor for the affected people referenced.

While descendants of those who survived under such horrific events may now live in a different world, this does not separate them from the residual aftermath that is still very much alive in the current day. From attachment issues to the isolation felt with harsh forms of parenting, these experiences are passed down generation after generation in what may seem like a never-ending succession. There have been centuries-worth of unhealed, traumatized, and marginalized groups of people because of unforgivable acts of inhumanity done by a higher power. And unfortunately, we still see those patterns in modern-day life.

We see these manifestations take place in the most developed of societies. Take, for example, the United States, where Columbus Day is still a recognized holiday by many. Though progress has been made in states like Michigan, California, and Minnesota, where they have proclaimed Columbus Day to be Indigenous People’s Day [4], no permanent action has been established as of yet, despite growing support for doing so. Just across the border, Canada has been experiencing similar mixed feelings and stances about Canada Day, a holiday that their large Indigenous population views as a reminder of the brutalities their ancestors faced and the racism and silencing of their true history even till now.

We see patterns of historical trauma everywhere. From anti-semitism to racial profiling, many of these minorities have never caught a break from the disparities society has consistently thrown at them. Without steady reinforcement of understanding cultures and learning to empathize with one another, the gap of ignorance will only worsen, especially under this current age and political climate.


[1] Sandoiu, A. (2022). The impact of historical trauma on American Indian health equity. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/the-effects-of-covid-19-on-the-mental-health-of-indigenous-communities#American-Indians-are-dying-of-neglect-

[2] Rolo, M.A. (2017). The truth about Christopher Columbus. The Progressive Magazine. https://progressive.org/latest/the-truth-about-christopher-columbus/

[3] What is Historical Trauma? (2017). Administration for Children & Families. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/trauma-toolkit/trauma-concept

[4] Willingham, A.J., Andrew, S., & Andone, D. (2021). These states are ditching Columbus Day to observe Indigenous Peoples' Day instead. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/11/us/indigenous-peoples-day-2021-states-trnd/index.html

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