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'Transgenerational trauma' discussed at UAS

Posted: April 9, 2013 - 12:06am

Univ. hosting 1st spring honors symposium

Students, faculty and members of the public turned out for what was billed as the “centerpiece event” of the University of Alaska Southeast’s first Spring Honors Symposium Monday evening at the UAS Student Recreation Center.

A panel of students in the university’s honors program reflected on German-born author Gabriele Schwab’s book “Haunting Legacies: Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma,” class reading for the Spring Honors Reading Seminar this semester at UAS, before Sealaska Corp. board of directors member Patrick Anderson spoke on the “intergenerational transmission of trauma” within Southeast Alaska’s Native communities.

During the panel portion, students read aloud essays they had written on their response to the subjects explored by Schwab in “Haunting Legacies,” asking questions about the issues the book raised. Many of the students, who were of varying races, wondered how to acknowledge historical violence and discrimination and reconcile them with the present.

The panel also featured Arizona State University professors Martin Beck Matuštík and Patricia Huntington, who are in Juneau for the symposium.

Matuštík, whose mother survived the Holocaust in what was then Czechoslovakia, noted that the date of the event coincided with Yom HaShoah, also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day, which began at sundown Sunday.

“I have been very moved by what you guys have presented tonight, because I always think, you know, nothing new can happen,” said Matuštík, adding, “It feels like I’m in some kind of village, Slovak village in Juneau, where on the Shoah Day, we are talking about a past and the bones in the land. We are talking about all of that together. It’s, like, unreal.”

Huntington talked about being a white American in a country with a history of racial injustices perpetrated by the white majority.

“We don’t really know the facts,” Huntington said. “We’re not taught the facts. We’re not really taught a lot about the colonization of the Americas, not to mention the issue of language.”

After the panel presentations and a question-and-answer period, Anderson was introduced to speak on his own experiences with transgenerational trauma.

Anderson talked about the death of his alcoholic sister and how a series of experiences got him thinking about what the root cause of addiction and other negative behaviors among Alaska Natives might be. He said he believes childhood trauma, such as growing up in a household with absent, abusive or addicted parents, often becomes ingrained in the brain and drives behavior even into adulthood.

“People ask me how come my sisters didn’t make it out of the traumatized background that we had, and I did,” said Anderson, who told a story about growing up in fear of his mother’s alcoholic, abusive boyfriend. “And I maintain that I didn’t. This belly comes from cortisol. I’ve been married three times — two of them to traumatized women, so we shared at least that common background, but it doesn’t bode for good relationships.”

Anderson suggested that part of the “pathway to healing” is fostering a more positive environment for children while acknowledging that many adults continue to pass on their own childhood traumas to the next generation.

“We need to understand that our parents, while they may have been the vehicles of the perpetration of intergenerational transmission of trauma, were not the reason for it,” Anderson said. “Historical trauma was. Historically, the negative behaviors happened as a consequence of trauma. That first generation started drinking, started having bad relationships, started doing the things that perpetrate the intergenerational transmission of trauma, but we can’t blame that generation.”

Monday night’s “community discussion workshop” was catered by Abby’s Kitchen.

Other speakers at the event included UAS assistant professors Sol Neely and Lance Twitchell.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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