When the Pen Heals

I have started writing my graduate thesis. When it is finished it will be 150 pages of academic writing with a focus on theology.

My topic? Storytelling as a method of spiritual healing for Native American/First Nations communities recovering from the historical and generational trauma of U.S. Government instituted boarding schools and Church instituted mission schools.

This would be a difficult topic for anyone. Writing a nearly book-length tome addressing issues of genocide requires an in-depth look at specific acts of trauma inflicted on individuals and community. When it is an academic venture into the genocidal trauma of your own community, it is excruciating. But, for me, I believe it is necessary.

As Native people, we need to heal from the inside out. We cannot depend on the acts of our oppressors (and, believe me, the oppression continues today) to pull us out of our own darkness. We have to face our darkness head-on. For me, that involves staring genocide in the eye and speaking it’s name out loud. It is important to see clearly the place from which our current struggles emanate and to begin untangling the trail of suffering that genocide leaves in its wake. But, it is also necessary to speak our genocide aloud in order to bring awareness to the descendants of our perpetrators. They do not know the history of trauma in their own countries because those who committed these acts of violence refused to speak of it. It was too shameful, too painful, and too inexcusable.

The truth is America has it’s own holocaust to account for.

As I begin the painful work of uncovering genocide against my people I think I cannot do it. I think the stories of physical and sexual abuse, suicide, children forced to beat other children, children forced to bury other children, children forced away from their families when they are only four and five years old is more than I can bear. Each time I uncover a new story I think I cannot go further.

But, there is another side to this thesis. The healing side. Storytelling as healing. Story in the form of oral tradition, literature, and theater. Story, writing, language as a method of working through the darkness. As I write, I am reminded (sometimes by myself, usually by friends and teachers) that it is in the act of writing, the act of naming, that I become free from the pain. We do not become free of the pain by dancing around it. By ignoring it. By talking of other things or changing the subject when the sensitive topic is approached. We heal by writing through, talking through, reading through the story of our pain. It is in the act of writing, in the DOING, that the destruction of genocide begins to unravel.


3 thoughts on “When the Pen Heals

  1. Melissa – this is such an important awareness, love and support as you continue this work towards bringing light, love and healing to this subject, but moreso to the living individuals you heal today through the telling of the story.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree that writing is a way of healing, and that when our stories are witnessed by others, the healing continues and has a ripple effect in so many ways. Good luck to you as you go deeper into this journey.

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