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Historical Trauma in the American Midwest Event Recap


On September 16, 2021, PACEs Connection hosted our second event in our Historical Trauma in America series. This event was led by Ingrid Cockhren, the director of the PACEs Connection Cooperative of Communities; and Porter Jennings-McGarity, our community facilitator of the Midwest Region. It featured guest speaker Agnes Woodward who is Plains Cree from Kawacatoose First Nation, Saskatchewan, Canada.

To download the slide deck from this presentation, click here. Then click "download file".

The series examines the impact of intergenerational trauma on the health and well-being of individuals today. Historical trauma—another term for intergenerational trauma—is defined by Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart as multigenerational trauma experienced by a specific cultural group resulting in “a cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over the lifespan and across generations, emanating from massive group trauma” (Brave Heart, N.D.). As recent advances in the science of positive and adverse childhood experiences (PACEs science) continue to show the profound impact of historical trauma on society today, PACEs Connection launched this series to educate and empower people to take action to mitigate its adverse impact and promote resilience in their regions.

Please read about our event that focused on the American South by clicking here.

As we did in our event on the American South, Cockhren, an expert in historical trauma and critical race theory, provided an introductory overview of PACEs science and the role of intergenerational trauma. Jennings-McGarity followed with Midwest-specific historical traumas and their modern manifestations. Factors that contributed to poor race relations in the Midwest included the Great Migration (1910-1970), World War I (1914-1918), the Great Depression (1929-1933), the Dust Bowl (1930s), and World War II (1939-1945). Although people are probably familiar with lynchings in the South, a number of notable lynchings and race riots took place in the Midwest. Participants may not have known about how the highway expansions that were part of President Roosevelt's New Deal in 1933 often resulted in Black neighborhoods being demolished.

Mass incarceration, which disproportionately impacts people of color in the United States, is highest in some Midwestern states such as Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and Oklahoma. Notable recent police homicides in the Midwest—including that of George Floyd, who was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2020—have sparked nationwide police reform and abolition demands.

Slide - Midwest

Many attendees were surprised and dismayed to learn that in many respects, such as segregation, school outcomes by race, and incarceration, the Midwest is the most racist region of the United States.

"Surprised midwest is so racist," attendee Laura R. commented in the chat. In response to some of the statistics citing Wisconsin as having some of the worst outcomes, programs, and policies, an attendee simply remarked "Wisconsin! Yikes!"

Agnes Woodward

Special guest speaker Agnes Woodward spoke of her experience as an indigenous woman in the Midwest, specifically North Dakota. She's a "mother, a wife, grassroots organizer, organizer, activist, and seamstress." You can find her ribbon skirts here: She discussed the high rates of violence against women in indigenous communities, as well as substance use disorders, poverty, and suicide.  She explained The Sixties Scoop, a government policy enacted in the 1950s in which Canadian children were taken from their indigenous families and placed with white families or in foster care. Canadian residential school horrors of indigenous genocide were put on an international radar this year when over 1,300 unmarked graves of indigenous children were uncovered.

Many, many, many attendees commented that they learned something new from this presentation.

Rachel H.: "Very surprised by the entire content of the presentation. Makes me want to learn more!"

Mary Ann D.: "I learned so many things," including the The Sixties Scoop, for the first time.

Kayla:, "I was surprised by many of the numbers, but the 60s Scoop wasn't something I was aware of, being from ND and so close to Canada."

Laurel G.: "I was surprised to learn how little I know about history."

We are looking forward to sharing more information with you in our next segment of Historical Trauma in America on November 18, which focuses on the Northeast. Click here to register.

Attendee Recommendations:

Nick Dalton:

  • 'City of Inmates' is a great new book about the creation of the modern prison system through experimentation on Black and Brown bodies and communities in LA County... an extension of 13th Amendment
  • There is a great new children's/family book called "Christopher The Ogre Cologre," created by Indigenous artists, that denotes the reality of how Columbus is/was not a hero.

Alison Cebulla:

  • The history of mining and the impact on Native populations is tragic. I recommend the book Yellow Dirt about uranium mining in Arizona.

Jessie Eagan:

  • There is a great book called The Color of Law that discusses the way that policies designed to support home ownership were intentionally implemented in ways that discriminated against black families

John Flores:

  • Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz has a revised version of “An Indigenous People’s History of the United States” for young people which is a great resource for educators. The original book is also an amazing resource that covers many of the topics brought up in the chat.

Rushell Moyer:

  • The movie on Netflix, Indian Horse just hurts my heart.

Christine Cowart:

Tara Wallace:

Sara Durbin:

Carey Sipp:

Christine Brugler:

  • Book "What Happened to You" by Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah
  • Book "The Deepest Well" by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris

Natalie Audage:


Images (2)
  • Slide - Midwest
  • Agnes Woodward

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