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New culturally-focused workshop aims to help Native families heal intergenerational trauma together

The entrance to a blue-gray modular building, with wooden stairs and a wooden ramp on either side and a big white sign that says “White Buffalo Recovery Center.”
Hannah Habermann
/
Wyoming Public Media
The White Buffalo Recovery Center’s office in Arapahoe on the Wind River Reservation.

The White Buffalo Recovery Center is a culturally-informed outpatient treatment center that supports Native community members who are recovering from addiction and substance abuse. This June, they’re launching a new version of Mending Broken Hearts, a bimonthly, three-day workshop that provides healing around grief, loss and intergenerational trauma.

In the past, the program has been just for adults, but now the workshop is expanding to include the whole family.

Northern Arapaho tribal member Luke Brown is a peer specialist at White Buffalo and will help run the first Mending Broken Hearts for Families program, which will take place from June 12 to 14 in Riverton. Brown said the hope is that family members can connect and heal together.

“Mending Broken Hearts itself is an effort to help resolve unresolved grief and to complete some incomplete relationships – they can be living or people who have passed. It helps us look at where our trauma has stemmed from. A lot of it is historical trauma from colonialism,” he said.

Brown pointed to the long history of forced removal and physical violence against Native peoples, as well as the cultural violence and silencing of the boarding school era. He said that history still lives on and impacts multiple generations.

“Our parents were disconnected from our culture and were disconnected from our language. When children grew up in that type of household, they didn't grow up with their culture and they didn't learn their language, and that's where a lot of disconnection comes from. We didn't learn how to deal with our emotions and we didn't learn how to resolve our grief,” he said.

Kenzie Monroe is Northern Arapaho and is the certified adolescent peer specialist at White Buffalo. She’ll be co-facilitating the new program with Brown and said bringing young people into the workshop is a logical next step.

“A lot of our adolescents are struggling and they don't understand where the grief is coming from, or understand their feelings or healing. So I think that's good to be a part of that [conversation],” she said.

Monroe recently went through the adult-only version of the Mending Broken Hearts workshop and came away with a greater understanding of the ripple effects of intergenerational trauma. She said applying that knowledge and awareness in a multi-generational space could have a similar ripple effect in the direction of healing.

“When you come with a child, now they understand what you were going through and how [intergenerational trauma] affects your child. I think first-hand healing is going to happen. There's going to be that understanding and forgiveness and ultimate healing,” she said.

The Mending Broken Hearts for Families workshop is open to youth and their parents or guardians, with a suggested age of 13 and up. However, parents and guardians are encouraged to use their discretion to assess whether their child is at an age where they can engage with difficult topics like colonization and intergenerational trauma.

The White Buffalo Recovery Center offers both clinical services and services run by certified peer specialists, which support those personally struggling with addiction and those who are impacted by that struggle. Those programs include the Mending Broken Hearts workshop, as well as drum sessions, recovery support meetings and a 12-step Medicine Wheel program that re-imagines the Alcoholic Anonymous treatment tool within an Indigenous framework.

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Hannah Habermann is the rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has a degree in Environmental Studies and Non-Fiction Writing from Middlebury College and was the co-creator of the podcast Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole. Hannah also received the Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing & Journalism Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2021 and has taught backpacking and climbing courses throughout the West.