Intergenerational trauma studied in northern Montana - KRTV News in Great Falls, Montana

Intergenerational trauma studied in northern Montana

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New research suggests that intense psychological trauma can actually impact a person's genes and be passed along to future generations.  The condition is called "epigenetic change." 

Researchers have found that this genetic condition caused the children of Holocaust survivors to develop acute stress and anxiety disorders.

MTN reporter Josh Meny went to the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning to see whether the trauma suffered by the Blackfeet people in the second half of the 1800's is still affecting them psychologically today.  

Great Falls College-MSU hosted a talk on trauma as a part of "No More Violence Week" in early April.

 Boston Medical Center's Courtney Bailey discussed a hereditary form known as intergenerational trauma.

Child Witness To Violence Project at Boston Medical Center spokesperson Courtney Bailey explained: "The research is showing that genes can be passed down and they’re calling it the trauma gene, not really sure how it gets passed down, but we know that the gene gets adapted in some kind of way when a family has experienced trauma in that we can see that gene passed down for several generations.”

In 1830, The Indian Removal Act began a systematic effort by the U.S. government to remove Native Americans from their lands.

The Blackfeet people experienced the Baker Massacre in 1870 where more than 200 women, children, and elderly were slaughtered. Then, in the winter of 1883-1884 more than four times more Blackfeet people died of hunger in the event known as Starvation Winter. These are just two of the most talked about events in countless other atrocities that the Blackfeet people have experienced.

Blackfeet tribal member Carol Murray started researching the Baker Massacre as a student at Northern Montana College in Havre.

Murray was driven to uncover the truth, but  soon found out why so little was known about the massacre; elders feared punishment from the government for talking about it.

But Murray persisted knowing that sharing the story would begin the healing process for her people.

Blackfeet Community College Vice President Carol Murray explained:  “If you walked in this room and there were over 200 people hanging from the ceiling dead and you walked back into the other room, and expect to get back onto the computer, and be able to write a story about it. Basically that’s what my instructor asked me to do. Go home talk to your people, find out about the Baker Massacre, and write a paper.” 

On January 23rd 1992, on the anniversary of the Baker Massacre, Murray got the community to visit the Marias River.

The commemorative community-visits to the Marias, where the Massacre happened, helped the Blackfeet to begin openly talking about it.

Narsis Reevis, a tribal historic preservation officers, says thinking about the massacre makes him feel anxious, angry, and sad all at once. He says he wishes he could’ve been there to protect his family from being murdered.

Reevis has won the Ultimate Warrior Endurance Race six times. The race consists of 21 miles of running, canoeing, and horseback racing.

He says he uses his sadness to tap into his inner warrior.

Reevis explained: “Sometimes when I train I think  of stuff like that to help our ancestors. I use that in a good way, try harder. I’m just trying to honor them the best way I could and, you know, like we’re Blackfeet, so I’m just trying to honor the whole Blackfeet."

The Montana Department of Correction’s 2015 Biennial Report states that American Indians continue to be over-represented as a minority-ethnicity in the prison system.

Murray believes there's a connection between passed down trauma and the high rate of Blackfeet people in jail.

“Why are there so many? Do they go off,  just go off angry and just lose all control because of these effects of intergenerational trauma that are just now spilling out,” said Murray. 

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