Native Alaska: Trans-generational Toxic Stress

They didn’t talk about it and didn’t want to.  They changed the subject when it was brought up by the young people  — what happened?

Wrangell (7)Silence — a non-response common throughout the world by those who have experienced brutal defeat, genocidal actions, sending Native children to schools, decimating families, preparing the way for segregation and racism.  The shame is nearly unbearable.  So Silence.

Nancy didn’t know the specifics of her people’s pain —  depression, alcoholism, early “accidental” deaths, prison fora  small demeanor, the school dropout rate.  But in high school, Nancy learns that her  people, the Haida of southeast Alaska, had been colonized by Russians, British and even the Spanish starting in the 1700’s and then ultimately the land we know as Alaska is sold to America by Russians — Seward’s Folly. 1867.

KlawockTot2ANancy’s people lost 90% of their population with European contact, most to flu and small pox — The Great Death. 90% died. Nancy still has a hard time getting her mind around those numbers. Missionaries regarded Haida totem poles (Haida: ǥyaagang) as graven images rather than intimate representations of the family histories that wove Haida society together. As the islands were Christianized many such cultural works were destroyed or taken to museums around the world. This significantly undermined Haida self-knowledge and further diminished morale.

Nancy’s mother, Mary, was first given in marriage, arranged, to a Haida man from another village.  He was much older.  He beat her.  She left. Eventually.

William Robert Daily was different. He was a hillbilly white man and a hobo, coming of age during the Dust Bowl — he came to Alaska looking for work. He met Mary in a bar and a few weeks later, borrowed two dollars and a blanket for the honeymoon.

He was a good man and a good father of Irish extraction.  Through his ethnicity  he was very familiar with the wanton killing of people along with the resulting trauma that goes on for generations — alcoholism.  He drank but never on holidays. Not on Christmas.  Not on Easter, fourth of July and not on birthdays. William Robert Daily was in-charge of birthdays. Food.  Everything.

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