Taking the Trails of Traumatic Tears: The Indigenous in the National Mourning of the United Kingdom and the United States


Ignoring, forgetting, or denying the traumatic history of individuals or countries is not mentally healthy.




“The day will come when people like you will curse duh day you evah laid eyes on people like us. And we gone be all duh better for it.” - from the Steppenwolf play, “The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington”

Most every eulogy I have heard—or done—for an individual who has recently died has been positive, almost exclusively so. But that perspective leaves behind and unsaid other aspects of the person. More than once, it almost seemed that a patient left the eulogy in dismay and came right to a session because of the one-sided eulogy.

In a parallel process, it seems that something similar can occur for countries that are involved in national mourning. Most recently, it seems like almost any discussions about the adverse colonial actions during the Queen’s long reign, or discussions of 9/11/01, have been “whitewashed.”

Such a preponderance of positivity makes some psychological sense by not tarnishing an important loss. Yet, at its best, reviewing the life of a person or the history of a country also offers an opportunity to redress prior wrongs.

In the current cases, that redress may come funneling down to the intergenerational and current transmission of traumas to the indigenous. England and its settlers in their American colony seem responsible for the displacement and deaths of countless Native Americans. Just take what is sometimes called the “Trail of Tears,” with the forced removal of tens of thousands of the “Five Civilized Tribes” from the Southeast between 1830-1850. Both countries are also responsible for the institution of the slave trade of the indigenous from parts of Africa.

There are many other countries around the world that have traumatized and decimated the indigenous in the quest for control, power, and economic riches, even under the possibly guilt-reducing guise of civilizing “the other.” Now, in an ironic turn, some of the indigenous can be resources on sustainability to offset the over-reliance on fossil fuels by their conquerors.

The reckoning by reparations, whether psychiatric or monetary, is still relevant.1 In the United States, their legal gambling places are sometimes called “the Indian’s revenge.”

Psychiatry, locally and internationally, can convey the psychiatric damage done to the descendants of colonized and slave-trading countries, remnants of which are embedded in modern institutions.

In clinical care, part of any evaluation of any patients may be whether they have traumatized trails of ancestors. This may be called an ancestral history. Ignoring, forgetting, or denying the traumatic history of individuals or countries is not mentally healthy in the long run for anyone involved.

Dr Mofficis an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.


1. Moffic HS, Bailey R, McLean A, Okamoto T; The PRO Group (Psychiatric Reparations Opportunities). The case for psychiatric reparations. Psychiatric Times. 2021;38(8).

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