November 06, 2012

The author is a board member of NAMI Boulder County (Colo.) and member of NAMI’s American Indian and Alaska Native Networking Group. For discussion of historical trauma and the expression of pain as a means toward healing, see also her article Native American tribal communities provide hope for overcoming historical trauma.


My Cunksi (daughter), Cante' Wast'e Win (Good Hearted Woman) began taekwondo at the age of 8. I thought, “maybe she might like it if she tried it.” I just assumed my boys would love the heck out of it. As it so happens, the story was quite opposite. Cante' loved class and in some way, loved the idea of being great at a sport historically dominated by men and not highly represented by American Indians.

The creed of the martial arts school she attends is “you can accomplish anything.” Being a parent, you always try to instill this concept in your children. I always tell my daughter that she can accomplish anything no matter the situation. And every time she faces an obstacle, she remembers this and says, “Yes, I can do it. I can accomplish anything.” 

After three years of practicing diligently, she will be testing for her recommended black belt in February 2013. Sometimes, I think to myself, “Wow, my daughter is 11 and will be a black belt!?” I add the question mark, because, at that age I would have never thought that I could accomplish what she's done, even if I had the opportunity. It made me think of all the other young girls out there, who come from historically disenfranchised communities. I wondered if they had the same opportunities as my daughter. Could they have a chance to accomplish the things they want in life?

Living on the Pine Ridge reservation for eight or so years, I encountered many young girls who believed their lives were just confined to the “rez.” They would do as most their female relatives do—maybe graduate high school, have some children, try to find a job, but really what do they get to accomplish? I was stunned at the attitudes that these young women had about themselves! It made me sad and mad, all at once. I felt like shaking them and telling them that this does not have to be their life.

When you look at the historical traumas of our people, it's not hard to wonder why they think this way. Some might be aware of it and some might not. It's important to understand our history. I try, even though it's hard, to teach my children their history.


When I look at my Cunksi in this picture, I like to think that she's getting ready to break down all the walls of oppression and privilege. She's getting to ready to break that cycle of trauma and pain. The look on her face is one of perseverance, truth and accomplishment. Her little brother Tatanka Hahin (Slow Buffalo) is seen in the bottom left of the picture, looking and waiting for her to break that cycle. I'd like to think he's getting ready too.

For more information on mental health care issues within the American Indian and Alaska Native community, visit the NAMI’s American Indian/Alaska Native Resources.

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