“The only good Indians I ever saw were dead,” as stated by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who at the time, worked directly under President Jackson. In 1830, Native American tribes were forcibly removed from their homelands and property. Many were only left with the few belongings on their backs. Helpless Native Americans were arrested from their homes and dragged away as revolting savages. They were loaded up as if they were nothing more than mangy cattle, into numerous wagons. Those unfortunate to be unable to ride a wagon were forced to walk in weakening temperatures. The journey brought along freezing temperatures and harsh snow storms. Approximately two thousand Native Americans lost their lives due to the relocation forced upon them by the White Americans. The Trail of Tears exiles ultimately was a trail of unspoken deaths. The sufferings faced by these Native Americans will forever be an embarkment of generations to come. Removal, during this time, was a term used as if to promote the good of the general public when it hides the harshest, most inaccurately opportunistic acts in American History. History attempts to cover the abuse done to Native Americans as it being room for imperialistic opportunities for the White Settlers. History doesn’t tell the stories of the lives lost and what negative impact it gave to Native Americans. In present time, Native Americans are still struggling to keep up with the advances of White American standards, facing similar struggles during the time of the Trail of Tears. The Indian Removal Act left an everlasting impact on the mental health of the effected Native Americans through historical trauma, poverty, and by disregarding needs of Native Americans throughout history and in the present world.
To understand the mentality of Native Americans, it is first important to understand who they are and have a good understanding of the environments they lived in. For years, Native Americans lived alone with the land before White American settlers stripped this away from them. The lands held everything they known and loved such as their homes, livestock, art and a spiritual reputation. Once overran by the English settlers, Native Americans were displaced from their traditional lands, their scared sites excavated. The White Americans felt threatened by the Natives and resented them. To them, the Native Americans were aliens, uncultured savages to stubborn to leave the lands they had now claimed. Early development of American government believed the best way to fix the “Indian Situation” was to convert the Natives to Christianity. The goal of this civilization was to make the Native Americans more like the Americans, to speak English and practice religion the ways they did. Everything Native tribes had known and loved for generations, was taken away and destroyed right before their very eyes. The White settlers had no empathy to the lands that once held their Native ancestors, the same lands Native Americans once praised and worshiped. Even the deceased tribal members were unearthed from their burial sites as to make more room for colonization. Their way of life was unvarnished from them unwillingly, and they were forced to accept the way of life as the White Americans lived, even if it conflicted with their own morals and values. Native Americans were weakened by the treatment inflicted on them by the English leaving physical and mental pain. After being ordered to leave behind the lands they had lived on for generations, the American government forced Native Americans to dispense, many tribes left peacefully while other retaliated leading to brutal punishments. Native Americans were obligated to walk thousands of miles to specifically designated “Indian Territory” across the Mississippi River. This tragic event became known as the Trail of Tears due to the thousands of innocent Native lives lost on the treacherous journey. Before this journey began, a letter written by President Andrew Jackson, was given to the Native tribes affected, which encourages the Native Americans that this movement was for everyone’s benefit, making it sound as if the removal act was a positive effect. Andrew Jackson had long been an activist of what he referred to as the Indian Removal Act. Immediately after becoming President, he signed to proceed this crusade. This gave the Federal government full power to extract the lands away from the Indigenous tribes. In this letter written by the president, he speaks on behalf of the Native tribes that the removal act impacts. He then urges the Natives to give up their fights and accept the change going on around them. This means to accept that they are forced to leave behind their homes and travel thousands of miles away just to be “safe” from the colonization of the white settlers. He encourages the tribes that they will be much more prosperous in the new territories designated for them, as later debunked to be horrifically false in consideration that thousands of Native Americans lost their lives during the harsh excursion. President Jackson acts as if he is a friend of the Native Americans only to make them leave as he has no intentions of helping them. This letter exploits the President at the time for the dishonest promises made as the movement caused nothing more than negative trauma to the Native American tribes affected. To President Jackson, the lands taken were just an opportunity for westward expansion and advancements for colonizing. There is no consideration to how this would impact Native Americans and once the damage was done, Natives received no recognition or help. They were used as game board pieces, once moved out of the way, no one wanted anything to do with them anymore. Rather than speaking to the Native Americans as if they were human beings, President Jackson writes a letter glorifying the change, even though plans of removing the Natives were already in action. This letter stands as an example of how mental health of Native Americans is impacted by historical trauma events.
Another example that shows the historical trauma done to Native Americans is the letter, “Consequences of Resisting Removal.” A message from Brigadier General John E. Wool to the Cherokee Nation warning them of the consequences of resisting removal. At this time, General John. Wool was an officer in the United States army. In this letter, General John E. discusses how punishments will be executed if the Native tribes refused or fought against moving west. Native Americans were given a specific time to be gone by, if not U.S soldiers would be enforced against them. General John E then continues to describe the types of treatments and punishments to impose fear and horror to the Natives. Wool deliberately threatens the Native Americans in order to forcibly make them obey his orders. This letter exposes the punitive mistreatment of Indigenous tribes and how this led many Native Americans to develop mental disabilities due to the high amounts of anxiety and depression imposed upon them during this time period. Native Americans were placed in a situation where even the government was against them, making them seem inferior and less important than the white settlers. The letter displayed in great detail the consequences they would face if not detached from the territory. Today, members of the same tribes affected still suffer greatly from anxiety and depression showing lasting historical trauma.
A third example of historical trauma inflicted on Native Americans is the letter written by Chief Ross, John. ‘To the Senate and House of Representatives.” Cherokee letter protesting the Treaty of New Echota. (1836). John Ross was the chief president of the Cherokee Nation. This letter shows the emotions felt in response to the Indian Removal act. John Ross exploits the government for their unlawful and mistreatment of the Tribes. He describes the harassment and abuse Native Americans were forced to deal with for defending what had belonged to them. He also confronts the Senate for allowing orders of threatening messages to terrorize the Native tribes as a means of making them move west. Through this letter, the impact of the trauma can be felt, as well as the rage and anger followed along with writing this letter. The letter assists with capturing the emotional and physical wreckage the removal act caused. John Ross speaks on behalf of the tribe representing shared reactions. This letter also exposes the lies lead on by Andrew Jackson, as in his letter, he acts as if he is on the same side as the Native Americans. Jackson acts as if this removal is for the benefit of the tribe when thousands of innocent lives were lost. The Cherokee first receive the letter written by Andrew Jackson as a peace offering to give up their fight and little under a year receive a death threat by the General. Because of the removal act, many Native Americans didn’t know how to pick up and restart their lives again. They felt emotionally and physically drained because of the tragedy they faced. While thousands of lives were lost, the survivors also lost pieces of themselves causing a drastic increase in mental health issues. This letter shows how Natives felt in retort of the order made by congress and how it impacted them mentally. Therefore, showing a traumatic event in history. Many individuals of Native heritage still struggle with mental issues related to trying to the same issues of trying to fit in and form a life of their own.
In addition to John Ross’s letter, the last example of mental disabilities related to historical trauma is an interview conducted by Tina Deschenie, “Historical Trauma.” Tribal College Journal. In this interview, Tina Deschenie talks with Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart about the traumatic aftermath of the Trail of Tears and the everlasting impact it leaves on Native American individuals today. Over 18,000 Native Americans from differing tribes were forcibly removed from the southeast to assigned territory in Oklahoma. This mournful elimination left Native individuals in the most unfortunate conditions. It was the U.S governments policy to for several years to continue to extinguish Natives from their homelands. Even though most Native Americans did survive the unforgiving travel, they continued to battle with the horrific traumas. As evidence reveals, Natives had much higher rates of alcohol abuse and substances, broken families, poverty and severe mental health issues. These are the same struggles many Natives still encounter in present time, showing a connection of the two through historical traumas. In this interview conducted, the question is asked to Brave Heart of how to overcome the historical trauma. Brave Heart explains how its more of a healing process rather than overcoming. Just as a wound heals on the skin, even though the cut no longer bleeds, it leaves behind a rigid scar. It hurts less over time, but it will always remain. This interview captures the agony felt generations ago and how it still leaves a wound today. Although the Trail of Tears occurred in the early 1800’s, the aching is still existing. The Native Americans lost more than just their homes and belongings, they lost themselves because of this illegitimate act targeted against them. This catastrophic and heartbreaking movement led to diminishing mental health in many Native Americans, as they dealt with severe anxiety and depression after the removal act. The disastrous impact caused historical trauma to the Native tribes affected, which many still struggle with today.
Along with historical traumas, many Native Americans suffer greatly from poverty causing negative impacts on their overall mental health. Many Indigenous communities are penurious. After beginning removed from the home many Native Americans had known for years, they had to start over their lives. Since early history documentations, Native Americans had been known for living off the lands as a means of surviving. They hunted, gathered, and worshiped the lands to provide what they needed. After the relocation, Natives were forced to also practice and live in the ways that the English did. This meant having to learn a whole new life style. Not only were Native tribes stripped away from their homes, their dignity and identities were also taken away. This caused Natives to face unembellished poverty, leading families to grieve greatly. This component still taunts Native Americans today, as they face this struggle. Unemployment rates reach as high as over 85%. The history surrounding Native Americans has been filled with misfortune and injustice. This ultimately led to Native communities to be deprived and suffer deeply. The major factor that led to the intensification of poverty is lack of opportunity given to Native individuals. An example that represents poverty heartaches is a journal written by S.M. Manson, “Mental Health Services for American Indians and Alaska Natives: Need, Use, and Barriers to Effective Care.” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. This article makes the connection of how poverty and significantly low unemployment rates lead to having complications with mental health such as anxiety, depression and stress. Mortality rates in Native populations disclose that suicide is the highest leading cause of death due to severe mental impairments. When compared to the National rates, the numbers were 3 times as high. The high poverty rates not only affect adults of Native tribes, but also affects children significantly. As stated by the article “American Indian children growing up under these stressful circumstances are at high risk for behavioural and emotional problems: while data on the prevalence of alcohol, drug, and mental (ADM) disorders among American Indian youth are scarce, some evidence suggests that American Indian youth experience more mental health problems than their peers in the general population.” This explains that children growing up in poverty are more likely to have more mental impairments than other class mates. Poverty acquires large amounts of stress which over time can be deteriorating to the body and mind. Being in poverty causes many Native Americans to feel helpless and feelings of being unimportant. In consideration that for countless years, Natives have been overlooked and mistreated it’s no wonder they feel no one is willing to help out in such a time of need. With this, their mental health has been damaged to the point that suicide rates have increased radically. Due to living in such poverty and having no way of gaining the help and support needed, many Natives have been pushed to give up completely. The article also states that “in a survey of over 13 000 American Indian adolescents, 22% of females and 12% of males reported having attempted suicide at some time. Over 67% of those who reported attempts had made those attempts within the past year. Fourteen percent of the females and 8% of the males reported significant feelings of sadness and hopelessness. This statistical information exemplifies how being in poverty has obstructed Native Americans mentally, causing many to lose their way of living. For generations Native populations have suffered greatly due to the lack of resources made available, triggering a spiral of negative complications to mental health. Unfortunately, poverty has been a troubling matter for numerous years and still continues to grow drastically for Native tribes still today.
In addition to historical traumas and poverty, Native Americans have suffered critically due to the fact the government has disregarded their needs for generations, leading to deteriorating mental health. The imperialistic relationship of control of the government towards Native populations in the United States has continued beyond the Trail of Tears and the forced Removal Act. Since the relocation and seclusion of these tribes to specific locations, their presence has become less and less of importance. Native Americans have been targeted victims of structural violence. Structural violence is identified as being a systematic technique of preventing or not satisfying the needs of specific groups. It is often invisible, and no one can be held responsible. This means that the violence is ongoing, and no one notices except for the innocent sufferers. For several years Native Americans have been suffering and in need of assistance, but the government has continued to ignore their cries. Since the Trail of Tears, Native populations have been disregarded and overlooked leading to negative consequences on mental health. The ignorance of the needs of Natives has led them to develop increasing numbers of mental disabilities due to high levels of stress and depression. Even with statistical evidence the government continues to snub these affected populations. An example of how mental disabilities affect Native Americans is the article “Mental Health Burden in a National Sample of American Indian and Alaska Native Adults: Differences between Multiple-Race and Single-Race Subgroups.” written by Nancy L. Asdigian, who has obtained a degree in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology showing her accreditation when analyzing mental health in Indigenous populations. In her article, she discusses psychological disorders being abnormally high in Native American cultures. The majority of this evidence was collected directly from the tribal setting. Individuals who considered themselves to be Native displayed direct connections to having mental disabilities and struggles related to depression. As stated in the article “As shown in Table 2, 28% of respondents in the AIAN group reported that a health care provider ever told them they had a depressive disorder compared to approximately 46% of AIAN-SR and 18% of White-SR respondents. After adjusting for differences in demographic characteristics, lifetime history of depression was associated with an increased odds of identifying as AIAN-MR compared to White-SR.” With the usage of statistical evidence, one can see how mental disabilities affect Native American populations when compared to Causation groups. The percentages of the Natives are nearly triple the percentage of Whites. This article challenges todays view of populations with mental health burdens and emphasizes the Native American grouping. After demographic adjustment, the Native American classification displayed a higher lifetime prevalence of diagnosed depressive disorder, more days of poor mental health, and more frequent mental distress compared to the classification of Caucasians. The article signifies how Native Americans suffer negatively due to mental disabilities and the numbers are only increasing overtime. This serves as a prime example of how the government disregards the needs of Natives therefore causing more damage to their mentality.
Another example that supports this is the article “Prevalence and Correlates of Mental Disorders among Native American Women in Primary Care,” by 2 Duran B, Sanders. Duran Sanders has a PH degree in health care and epidemiology showing accreditation with her work. This article discusses the limited health care provisions available for Native Americans or Indigenous background. This is a distinct coloration between Native Americans between high risks for mental disorders due to a lack of health care previsions due to their ethnic histories. Mental disorders or dysfunctions affect approximately 21% of the population causing unfathomable human sufferings. Many of these cases involving mental frailties in Indigenous populations often go undocumented and ignored.