NAA INV 06828200. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
Carlisle Indian Industrial School American Indian girls in school uniform exercising inside gymnasium in 1879.

Mary Annette Pember to Lead Yearlong Project on Historical Trauma


Indian Country Today Media Network is embarking on a yearlong project examining the theory of historical trauma in mental health practices among Native peoples. Long time contributor, Mary Annette Pember of the Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe, has been awarded two national health fellowships, the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism and the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowship at USC Annenberg to study, to describe and ultimately identify the best methods of using the theory in addressing mental health challenges in Indian country.

The Carter Center, in partnership with Emory University, is committed to human rights and alleviation of suffering and oversees the fellowship. Co-founder Rosalynn Carter is a long-standing champion of rights for people with mental illness and works to promote awareness about mental health issues.

“These journalists are making important contributions to lifting some of the stigma associated with mental health issues,” she said. This is the 18th year the awards have conferred.

Mary Annette Pember

The Annenberg program's mission is to improve reporting on community health issues. The fellowship is funded by a grant from the California Endowment and the Dennis A. Hunt Fund, named after communications leader Dennis A. Hunt who was dedicated to improving and supporting high-quality reporting on the health of communities.

The term “historical trauma” is firmly fixed in the contemporary discussion of mental health treatment strategies in Indian country. In the early 1980s Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart of the Lakota tribe, helped give form to a theory of healing that resonated deeply for many in Indian country, historical intergenerational trauma. Working with colleagues and traditional healers, she formalized the theory of historical intergenerational trauma as the root of the stubborn ethnic pain that seemed to plague Native peoples. In creating the theory, Braveheart and colleagues drew analogies from the Jewish Holocaust as a means to understand the intergenerational effects of organized genocide against Native people.

Pember has written extensively about the impact of trauma in her and her family’s lives as well as examining the roots of historical trauma and its impact on the Native community:

The Bitter Legacy of Boarding Schools

Native Girls Are Being Exploited and Destroyed at an Alarming Rate

During the next year, Pember will discuss the theory and its effectiveness with mental health professionals, grass roots healers and others working to address mental health challenges in their communities. She will write a series of articles telling the stories of those who struggle and the healers who seek to help them.

Please join our important work and let us know what you and/or your community are doing to live in a good way. Below are links for individuals who are currently traveling their own healing journey as well as healers who are working within their communities.

Link to google forms survey for individuals on healing journey:

Link to survey for healers:

Pember shares blog about the persistent nature of trauma:

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Juliet's picture
Submitted by Juliet on
Cue defensive whining from my fellow whites. This study will help Native Americans deal with the continuing effects of acts committed by people long dead (besides current mistreatment). It could also form a template for similar projects among other groups who continue to be victimized by historical injustices. Once we know what's wrong, and why, we can work together to fix (or at least ameliorate) the problems. And cue more defensive whining from white people who don't think they're racist.