Charles Trimble: Victimhood and a young Indian writer
There is a younger columnist whose writing has caught my attention in recent times. I have been greatly impressed by, first of all, his good writing style. He talks to his readers, straight talk about what he thinks, not mincing words. He also has a good view of our societies and the problems that afflict them, and plenty of confidence and courage to write frankly about them. Not least, he also has a wicked sense of humor but eschews meanness.

I have enjoyed his writings and invariably read his columns, printing out some of them for re-reading later. But what really caught my fancy is that he so deftly expresses views that I share. He writes so many things I wish I had written. He recently announced that he will be publishing a book in the coming year, something I had encouraged, and definitely look forward to.

This writer’s name is Gyasi Ross, and he’s a member of the Blackfeet Nation, with family among the Suquamish Tribe. He describes himself as a lawyer, warrior, teacher, entrepreneur and author. I have not met him personally, but look forward to the day.

I have asked his permission to quote his most recent column extensively, since I did not want to chance misinterpreting him. Also, I wanted to give his words more exposure among my readership on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations. He has graciously allowed me to do this. In that column, he wrote the following:
“…I hear intergenerational trauma arguments over and over and over. I hear that the reason why Natives consistently serve as the poster children for FAS, teen suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence is because of what happened to us in the distant AND not-so-distant past, ok, I can dig that. That makes some sense (and I hold any questions regarding whether ALL people have gone through some trauma in the past).

“Still like in Haiti at some point we have to ask the question, “Despite the intergenerational trauma, how much of our pain/suffering is of our own creation?” I venture that the answer is more than we like to admit. Thing is, if we use that intergenerational trauma rationale as the reason for our continued struggles/destruction, exactly where does it get us? Dead, but with a great excuse for our demise? Drug addicted, but with a great excuse for our addiction? A people filled with teenaged mothers, but with a great excuse for why we simply perpetuate the same cycle? See, we can continue to use, like Haiti, colonial mistreatment and governmental antipathy as an excuse for every failure under the sun but it doesn’t help any of our kids to get college degrees or any of our teens to get out of the suicide-laden rut that we’re in. Excuses will not help us to escape our rut they only provide our children another reason to believe that they are not equal with non-Natives.

“So yeah, we can ramble on and on about how Natives have been screwed historically and that some poverty is a by-product of that; we wouldn’t be lying. Still, we can also say, since we’re being so honest, that we really don’t use condoms nearly enough and we create more acute poverty because of our lack of self-control. Further, yes, we can honestly say that Natives got the short end of many sticks. “But can we can honestly say that Natives, collectively, do a good enough job proactively teaching drug and alcohol prevention? I think that if we were to answer that question honestly, the answer might make us mad. It would be one that we wouldn’t want to agree with. But the answer would be there, looking us dead in the eye.”

Over a year ago I wrote a column, “Let Go the Chains of Victimhood,” which caused a considerable stir in Indian Country, and I was branded by some as a heretic. Many said that I was blaming the victim, that multigenerational trauma was a proven fact, and that I was in a state of denial. Some even suggested that I wrote what I did because I had never experienced the suffering of boarding school life (although all my school years from the time I was four years old in 1939 to my graduating in 1952, were in a Catholic Indian boarding school).

Along with some very insulting e-mail and blog comments, I had also gotten some excellent materials from scholars and sociologists relating to multigenerational trauma. It was convincing, and I appreciate the understanding I have gotten from these people, and files of materials they’ve sent.

But my argument has always been and still is that, despite the fact of multigenerational trauma, we need to do something to get past that stage, and to quit perpetuating it. As Mr. Ross puts it, we must stop “providing our children another reason to believe they are not equal with non-Natives.”

Evelyn Blanchard, a Native woman whose mind I greatly respect, told me about a book that would give me some insights, a book titled “The Holocaust is Over We Must Rise from the Ashes,” by Avraham Burg. In the blurb on the dust cover the following sentences grabbed my attention: “By dwelling on its victimhood…. Jewish society fails to define itself by its positive attributes, and inhibits its own ability to move forward. Though it is important to honor the memory of victims and survivors, the Jewish community must not isolate itself by constantly mourning the past and fearing the future.”

This is precisely what Gyasi Ross is saying, and it is what I had written about in the past. In Gyasi I feel that I have found a strong, articulate and courageous ally in a common efforts to encourage our people – especially our youth, to not be inhibited by tragedies in our history. We must move on.

Charles “Chuck” Trimble, Oglala Lakota, was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970, and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-78. He may be reached at His website is

Related Stories:
Charles Trimble: Reaching a settlement for Black Hills (1/25)
Charles Trimble: Dreaming of a new Oglala Sioux empire (1/18)
Charles Trimble: Frontier mentality continues with guns (1/11)
Charles Trimble: Some thoughts on Lakota spirituality (1/7)
Charles Trimble: Santa in the age of climate change (12/21)
Charles Trimble: On being an 'insignificant nobody' (12/8)
Chuck Trimble: Facts, truth and ethics in journalism (11/24)
Charles Trimble: Indian warriors serve two nations (11/11)
Charles Trimble: What now after tribal summit? (11/9)
Charles Trimble: White House meet a milestone (11/2)
Charles Trimble: NCAI works with family of nations (10/22)
Charles Trimble: NCAI made it through rocky era (10/21)
Charles Trimble: A Fighting Sioux woman (10/6)
Trimble: Victimhood and 'Fighting Sioux' nick (10/5)
Charles Trimble: Sioux Nation can truly unite (9/25)
Charles Trimble: Human blood in Lakota blood (9/15)
Charles Trimble: Take action to address despair (9/8)
Charles Trimble: Confronting racism can work (8/20)
Charles Trimble: Lessons from Indian banking (8/7)
Charles Trimble: McDonald's not a bastion of racism (7/2)
Charles Trimble: Indian affairs rife for comedy (6/25)
Charles Trimble: No more offensive mascots (6/17)
Charles Trimble: The demise of the 'Fighting Sioux' (6/9)
Charles Trimble: Black Hills return just a dream (6/8)
Charles Trimble: After Custer, still fighting battles (6/3)
Charles Trimble: More on traditional names (5/18)
Charles Trimble: Taking pride in traditional names (4/24)
Charles Trimble: Recalling the Burro of Indian Affairs (4/20)
Charles Trimble: Reconciliation and Wounded Knee (4/13)
Charles Trimble: Support Lumbee recognition (3/27)
Charles Trimble: From the voices of victors (3/23)
Charles Trimble: Rebirth of 'Luke Warm Water' (3/20)
Charles Trimble: Never ending Wounded Knee story (3/16)
Charles Trimble: Facts and truth of Wounded Knee (3/9)
Charles Trimble: Answering Obama's call to hope (3/6)
Charles Trimble: Discussing the fate of the Indian press (2/13)
Charles Trimble: The 51st state for Indian Country (1/23)
Charles Trimble: A challenge for the next generation (1/6)
Charles Trimble: Thanksgiving and colonization (11/21)
Charles Trimble: NCAI service the highpoint in life (11/17)
Charles Trimble: Indian warriors serve nations (11/12)
Charles Trimble: Pawnee Nation reburies ancestors (10/31)
Charles Trimble: Twisting history for victimhood (10/20)
Charles Trimble: Sen. Obama a man for our time (10/13)
Charles Trimble: Tribes are players in marketplace (9/23)
Charles Trimble: Overdue obituary of Shirley Plume (09/08)
Charles Trimble: Indian Country must take control (9/5)
Charles Trimble: On the last Indian war with Giago (9/1)
Tim Giago: Moving from victimhood to victors (9/1)
Q&A with Charles Trimble: On Indian victimhood (8/25)
Charles Trimble: Shed the chains of victimhood (8/15)