BAY MILLS INDIAN COMMUNITY, Mich. (WJMN) – In our conversation about addiction in the Upper Peninsula we spoke with Whitney Gravelle, President of Bay Mills Indian Community. She started the conversation by addressing intergenerational trauma and how it translates into substance abuse and addiction.

“Intergenerational trauma, to pull back a little bit, is defined more as the cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over an individual’s lifetime from generation to generation, following the loss of their family, land, or other vital aspects of their culture. So it is no secret that Native Americans and tribal nations have had numerous traumas from the point of contact, that their people have had to live in and experience. That can include forced removal. You look at the trail of tears as the most prominent example. Many Native Americans were forbidden to speak their language or express their cultures. There were many diseases like smallpox or tuberculosis that were introduced from contact, which then caused widespread illness and almost genocide of many native families. As each of those individuals, those native children and their families were suffering from those but also surviving from them, intergenerational trauma really focuses on how is trauma altering your sense of being. If you’re not healing yourself from those unresolved historical traumas, then you’re carrying that injury with you. Injuries such as removal. Injuries such as discrimination. Injuries from genocide that can linger for generations. What we’re actually seeing is the culmination of intergenerational trauma manifesting itself in different forms today such as substance abuse,” said Gravelle.

Gravelle said Bay Mills Indian Community has had a lot of substance abuse programs over the years. They have evolved and developed to fit whatever substance is having the greatest impact on the community.

“For Bay Mills Indian Community specifically, we’ve been trying to create avenues and programs that actually supports what it means to Native Americans and their identity. Whether that be reintroducing culture, reintroducing traditional practices, teaching our tribal citizens about their history, what we actually find is if an individual is able to understand their past, it allows them to heal their present and live in a better way in their future. We really try to integrate. There’s a really wonderful program called Walking the Red Road and it’s a substance abuse program. It’s very similar to the 12 steps you see in Alcoholics Anonymous. Instead it focuses on the integration of Native American values, structure, and culture, family ties and how someone can support themselves as work to maintain their sobriety,” said Gravelle.

President Gravelle spoke about the first steps towards healing from trauma.

President Gravelle said Bay Mills is also part of the Tribal Action Plan Program. “In the program, it brings together all branches of our government to find out how we can support those who are having substance abuse issues. Many times when an individual is suffering from substance abuse, it impacts many forms of their life. It can be their housing, their employment, their childcare. It can do with financial issues like food or groceries, even their mental health issues. If you go and see a therapist for your mental health, they aren’t going to be able to help you with housing. So how are you bringing together all of those various services together to create what we call, ‘on ramps’ to being able to seek help, find help, and then use that help to recover from where you were when you were involved with that substance abuse.”