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Historical Trauma Impact on Native Hawaiian Youth Study Focus

youth work group
Trauma-informed human resources development program to support youth engaged in the justice system in Hawaii.

The traumatic effects of colonization, particularly the forced separation from Hawaiiis plentiful ʻāinaresulting in complex, interrelated health inequalities seen today in native Hawaiian communities, and particularly in the United States ʻopio (Youth), is the focus of new research by the University of Hawaii at the Mānoa Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health.

“Ke ala i ka Mauliola: Native Hawaiian Youth Experiences with Historical Trauma” was published in a special October issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health called Mental Health of Indigenous Peoples.

Led by Lorinda MNM Rileyassociate professor of public health, the study builds on previous work in which native Hawaiians articulated a collective sense of nahaha (heavy, oppressive sadness) arising from the mass dispossession of land, the fall of the Hawaiian kingdom, cultural loss, and the early loss of loved ones resulted.

Historical trauma research is critical to enhancing the well-being and future success of the next generation of Hawaiian Native Americans.
– Lorinda MNM Riley

“Historical trauma research is critical to enhancing the well-being and future success of the next generation of Hawaiian Native Americans. Unfortunately, this issue has received little study among native Hawaiians. I am very proud of our partnerships with the community as well as with other indigenous scholars who have been able to bring our issues to life ʻolelo Hawaii (Hawaiian language),” Riley said.

Using Indigenous methods in designing and conducting this study allowed researchers to better understand how Native Hawaiian ʻopio experience and understand historical trauma. Researchers used community partners to co-collect ʻopio Perspectives and stories through 34 talk story sessions conducted virtually.

The main results indicate that Native Hawaiian ʻopio experiencing historical trauma in a variety of ways, including through strong emotions that are difficult to deal with ʻopio check; Embark on escapism; feeling ʻāina related damages; being trapped in chaotic systems; experiencing conflicts in the family and in the community; and feeling that certain things are not meant for them.

The participants included 19 native Hawaiians ʻopio between the ages of 15 and 24, all of whom were either involved with the juvenile court system or experienced symptoms of poverty, periodic sadness, anger, fear, distrust of the intentions of those in power, used controlled substances, or had substance dependent family members. Attendees also included lawelawe (service providers) such as school psychologists and counselors, correctional facility workers, youth welfare investigators, juvenile justice and probation officers, and social workers who work directly with Native Hawaiians ʻopioas well as two Hawaii state legislature.

“Understanding historical trauma is the first step in healing that trauma and improving the well-being of our native Hawaiian youth,” Riley said.

Exploring future studies

Presentation of the apha conference
UH researchers present their study results at the 2022 American Public Health Association conference.

Despite the significant impact that historical trauma is having on Hawaii’s Native Americans Hawaii, many expressed pride in their identity and made several statements of hope about their future. Suggestions for future study include researching the experiences of Native Hawaiians with historical trauma across the lifespan, creating a scale to measure historical trauma among Native Hawaiians, and a curriculum that incorporates Hawaiian cultural practices, healing, to promote pride and nimbleness build for everyone Hawaiiincluding non-Hawaiians.

Other insights include deployment ʻopio with support from their communities and trauma-informed policies that include healing from historical trauma can help them grow into sustainable, productive, and caring beings over time. This research adds to the growing literature and “calls on the Legislature to support efforts to mitigate the effects of historical trauma.”

The co-authors of the paper included other faculty from AH Manoa: anamalia Su’esu’e from the Institute of Psychology, Kristina Hulama from the Department of Social Work, Scott Kaua Neumann from the department of philosophy and Jane Chung Do by the Office of Public Health Studies.