Masters Thesis

Experiencing historical trauma: American Indian disparities in the criminal justice system

For over 500 years, American Indians have endured physical, social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual genocide from European conquest. The cumulative wounding of Native peoples has left profound effects over a lifespan and across generations. My work is a consideration of the overrepresentation of American Indians in the criminal justice system and how that is rooted in the genocide of Native peoples in what is now the United States, and the resulting historical trauma; I also consider how overrepresentation of American Indians in the criminal justice system perpetuates both historical trauma and genocide. Racial formations theory is used to explore the concept of race as a social construction. Social, political, and economic forces determine the meaning of race and in the context of American Indians race is intersected with settler colonialism. Complex personhood theory (Gordon, 2004) takes into account the depth of peoples’ identities and complexities of race, class, and gender. Intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1991) combines advocacy, analysis, theorizing, and pedagogy, which are basic components to heal historical unresolved grief. Intersectionality also provides a critical analytical lens to contest existing ways of looking at structures of inequality. Historical trauma is critical to this thesis because it takes into account the cumulative wounding across generations. I use the aforementioned theories to draw attention to the continued genocide of Native peoples through the criminal justice system. Despite the continuance of genocide, Native communities are healing and showing resiliency, which is part of the work I was able to take part in with the Youth Disparities Reduction Collaborative in Humboldt County. I hope that upon completion of this thesis, we can push for more in depth discussions of historical trauma and further analyze the continued genocide of American Indians.