People’s Path Program Combats the Effects of Historical Trauma



Santa Fe””One may ask, why is the Institute of American Indian Arts in need of the People’s Path Program and what role does it play?

Many students may think that it is simply a disciplinary program created to deal with violators of the drug and alcohol policy, but this program is also voluntary.

The People’s Path isn’t considered a treatment program. It assists with prevention, recovery, and sobriety. This is all to provide a strong backing to the health and wellness of students here at the Institute.

Many factors of college lifestyle can cause problems not only for Native students but also for students in general. Some students are fresh out of high school and for the first time they are on their own.

This newfound sense of freedom can incites behaviors leading to drug and alcohol abuse, plus the temptation to imbibe is often around.

In the realm of the “American Indian” college setting, a multitude of other factors can play a role in substance abuse. The People’s Path program is here to combat these other sometimes unseen factors.

The Effects of Historical Trauma

Historically Native American people have continuously suffered trauma, stretching all the way back to pre-colonial times.

From the forced assimilation that the boarding schools and missions pressed upon Native children to the Termination Act in the 1950s, many different issues affect the mental state of some Native people.

Cherokees on the Trail of Tears Photo from

Greer McSpadden, counselor for the People’s Path program, says that much of behavior is learned. For example, one may see their parents drink and fight and learn that behavior is normal.

This is where the term generational trauma (or historical trauma) comes into play. The term refers to past dysfunctional behavior that is passed down through generations from parents to their children.

Controversy exists over what this continual trauma has done to the subconscious psyche of Native American people. For the most part, the study is inconclusive.

However, Greer said that it is clear that most degenerate behavior can be traced back to generations where that behavior also existed.

Breaking Free From Unhealthy Lifestyles

The People’s Path can only do so much for an individual in need of some form of recovery. A certain level of acceptance by the participant is required for it to work. One must be ready for change and be willing to accept help.

For many “first-time violators” of the drug and alcohol policy, there are stages the participant typically goes through. The first stage is denial as in, “I’m only here because I got caught.” The individual thinks that their prior behavior was acceptable and they really don’t belong in the program.

One can also volunteer to participate. This can provide a positive outlook for many of the other participants required to be in the program.

Overall, the People’s Path program serves as a means to help students break free from any unhealthy lifestyle choices.

In the realm of historical trauma it can provide ground for one to stand on to end vicious cycles created by the past.

Copyright © IAIA CHRONICLE 2010


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