Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

We Belong to the Land: Native Americans Experiencing and Coping with Racial Microagressions

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

We Belong to the Land: Native Americans Experiencing and Coping with Racial Microagressions

Article excerpt

Most of us are familiar with the self-defensive childhood idiom, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." This adage primarily implies that when painful words are ignored, then they lose power or effect upon the targeted person. But words can hurt and implications can be exacerbated when the attack directed at the individual involves their group membership that helps to make up their social identity and self-esteem (Evans-Campbell, 2008; Williams, Yu, Jackson, & Anderson, 1997).

These types of innuendos are referred to as microagressions and are defined as "subtle forms of racial bias and discrimination experienced by members of marginalized groups" (Sue, Capolilupo, et al., 2007). The problem is that while microaggressions on the surface can appear non-threatening, studies indicate the capability exists to cause harm in such areas as mental and physical health; creating a hostile work or campus environment; and perpetuating stereotypes that devalue groups and associated identities (Constantine, Smith, Redington, & Owens, 2008; Sue, 2010; Wang, Leu, & Shoda, 2011). Accordingly, recent research interests have focused on the development of a Racial and Ethnic Microaggressions Scale (REMS) in an effort to accurately measure microaggressive behavior. The data sample for this scale included Black, Latino/Hispanic, Asian, and White young adults, but lacked Native American representation1 (Forrest-Bank, Jenson, Winn, & Trecartin, 2015). However, a survey of 197 urban Native Americans indicated that that majority of the informants experienced microaggressions on a daily basis, creating stress for the individuals, their families and their communities (Walters, 2003). Similarly, Jones and Galliher (2014) conducted a study of 114 Native American young adults and found that nearly all had experiences with microgressions. Furthermore, their findings indicated a correlation between stronger Native identity and an increase microaggression experiences. The study's purpose here was to expound upon the experiences of 19 tribally diverse, Native American informants via the voices of their lived, personal experiences with microaggressions and how they coped with these circumstances as viewed through the lens of cultural resilience theory. The data obtained originated from two preliminary questions that were addressed to the informants: What does being Native American (tribal membership) mean to you? And, what does home mean to you?

Native Americans Colonization and Trauma

The United States is home to several racially diverse marginalized groups; however, Native Americans are unique in the sense that as the indigenous inhabitants of North America, they have had extensive experience with the long term effects of colonization. From the year 1603, Native Americans were viewed as having a "right of occupancy" to their homelands only through purchase or via conquest by those outside primary government powers (i.e. England, France, and Spain) who desired to claim the land for their own (Jackson, 1885, p. 9). Furthermore, due to more than a century of treaty-making, Native Americans were the only racial minority group in the United States to have established direct political relationships with the federal government, and many tribes are recognized by Congress as having sovereign national governments (Pevar, 2012). Based upon such pertinent political factors, Native Americans' experiences with miroaggressions have been historically long-standing and contemporarily ongoing.

A review of the literature uncovered a number of trauma studies that referenced the long-term generational negative outcomes of post-colonization affecting Native Americans (e.g. Brave Heart, Chase, Elkins, & Altschul, 2011; Grayshield, Rutherford, Salazar, Michecoby, & Luna, 2015; Whitbeck, Abrams, Hoyt, & Chen, 2004). However, much less was found via the voices that incorporate descriptions of coping mechanisms employed to deal with these types of distress. …

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