By: Elashia Rosado-Cartagena, UWO Peer Wellness Educator

Historical trauma is a very well known term among Native communities. It is a term that describes “Cumulative emotional and psychological wounding from massive group trauma across generations, including one’s own life span.” (Integrating Trauma and Historical Trauma.. Yellow Horse Brave Heart. 2017).   The impact of past traumas done to our population has not died with the generation that the atrocities were done to, but has instead been passed down to their children. This has caused decades of festering wounds that have been suppressed and unhealed onto the next generation. Historical trauma stems from the systematic loss of Native lands, lives, culture, customs and religion as a cause of the invasion of European Americans.

Some of these atrocities include the forced misplacing of native peoples, forced assimilation to the larger population and forced disassociation with one’s culture and language by the means of the boarding schools. These events among others have caused an extreme spike in mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, alcoholism, suicidal thoughts and general negative self-esteem. This is especially prevalent in the population of Native youth and Native college students. Where the rates of us who qualify as having a mental illness is 3 times more likely than our white counterparts.

The population of Native students who enter into higher education is among the lowest percentages among any minority group and those of us who retain a bachelor’s degree is even lower. With many of us often being the only Native in our classes and or dorms it can be hard to find a place where one feels like they fit.  This can often cause feelings of isolation, feeling misunderstood and or disassociation with one’s identity. It can be even harder to find a sense of community and be met with an understanding when one begins to experience these feelings.

Counseling centers on campus rarely offer traditional healing practices in which Native students are familiar, and on top of the feelings of mistrust towards outside authority, it can be difficult for Native students to find an outlet in which they are able to express their feelings and griefs to outside parties. This causes many students to draw into themselves and block out the outside world, furthering their beliefs that they have no place in which they fit outside of the “Native World.”  Often times Native students may begin to withdraw from daily activities and social life and feel as if they are living as two separate identities.

This can lead to feelings of hopelessness and frustration towards oneself and others, which may eventually cause one to withdraw from university or look to other unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse and other dangerous activities. Historical Trauma is often a silent disease in which many of us carry unknowingly and can have a big impact on our lives, but it can be stopped through healing by talking about these feelings that many of us may feel and or are going through at the present time among one another and through our communities.

For support and guidance specific to Native American students at UW Oshkosh, check out the resources and opportunities with our American Indian Support Services.  

Attend meetings with the Inter-Tribal Student Organization (ITSO)
Thursdays from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m.
Location: Multicultural Education Center
President: Nicholas Metoxen | Advisors: Dennis Zack & Dr. Heidi Nicholls


Altaha, Noel, and Noel Altaha. “Kill the Man Save the Indian: Native American Historical Trauma in College Students.” – Share Research,

“Factsheets.” PNPI, 9 Dec. 2013,

“Here’s the Truth About Why There Are So Few Native American Teachers.” Education Post, 14 Nov. 2016,

“History of Native American Higher Education.” Rehoboth Journal, 1 May 2015,

Indian Country Today. “Two Native American Students, Two Different College Experiences.”, Indian Country Today, 30 Apr. 2018,

“Impact of Historical Trauma.” The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition,

“Native American Students Left Behind.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 9 Mar. 2016,