The Loss of Cultural Identity and Neurological Dysregulation

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Pre-COVID, I was invited to speak at a conference in Flagstaff, Arizona. During lunch the organizers brought dancers from the Apache tribe to perform. What we witnessed was so powerful and moving, that it prompted me to inquire about the spiritual significance of the songs and dance. They explained to me that after going to war, the warriors returned to their land and were gathered together to perform that particular dance and song. As a tribal African woman, it all made perfect sense.

As Indigenous people, we have always had tools to manage our dysregulation. The song and dance I experienced was one of the Apache ways to “debrief” after witnessing potentially traumatic events. The warriors performed specific movement and rhythm to regulate the brain and spirit prior to returning to their community and families. The wisdom of the ancestors is boundless. Sadly, through colonization we have been stripped of our cultural identity and therefore lost many of our traditional ways that promote health and well-being and act as factors that increase resilience.

We can take it one step further; once Western culture prioritized capitalism, grow and expansion, they divorced themselves from their relationships with the Earth and humans with darker skin. It was the only way possible to exploit humans and Mother Earth, which is necessary to further a racist capitalist ideology. As the industrial revolution progressed, not only did they buy and sell human beings to further the agenda and pursue God, gold and glory through manifest destiny, but we simultaneously lost even more tools for regulation.

In 2012, I took my seven-year-old son to live in an Ashram in southern India. We lived an extremely austere lifestyle; sleeping in a tiny flat, side by side on the floor with no air-conditioning, refrigerator or modern-day conveniences. What scared me the most was the prospect of hand-washing all of our clothes. There was a lot of red-clay dirt, my son was young and all the boys played in mounds of dirt in nature. To top it off, on Tuesday's (thank goodness we had a brown uniform for the other 4 days) he wore an ALL WHITE uniform to school. I learned to hit the clothes on a huge rock to loosen the dirt and then used a scrubber of sorts to scrub away the remaining debris. It was a long and labor-intensive process. In no time, I began to love my time hand-washing the clothes. Later, I began to understand the neurologically regulating effects of the rhythmic hitting of the clothes on the rock and the soothing sound created by the friction of the scrubber against the fabric. It became a form of moving meditation.

Trauma science teaches us that the brain seeks safety and regulation. If we no longer have ways of neurological regulation connected to the culture and no longer have activities of daily living that promote regulation, we search for alternatives like drugs, alcohol, sweet/salty/fatty foods, and various other potentially harmful substitutes.

The good news is that we can prioritize relationships, engage in re-culturing and promote decolonization while leveraging the abundant information about our neurological system to mitigate the damage of trauma. I am always THRILLED to remember that positive experiences and benevolence is intergenerational too!

Originally posted in PACEs Connection

Photo by Ali Kazal on Unsplash


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