Dr. Gloria Horsley connects with Damita SunWolf LaRue, MA, LPA at the Association for Death Education and Counseling conference 2015. LaRue is a member of the Cherokee Nation and a doctoral student studying Clinical Psychology at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She’s also an Indian Health Services Scholar, specializing in serving culturally diverse communities with a focus on the Native American community. Historically, Native Americans have had a unique experience with grief and loss, particularly within a cultural lens due to losses of culture, religion, freedom, land, health and language.
LaRue points out that even though many of these historical losses happened several years ago, Native Americans are still reeling from them and it’s led to a unique culture of grieving. Today, there’s a focus on Natives seeking out understanding and bonds within an interdependent culture. There are a number of rituals, ceremonies and maintaining traditions within tribes and Native families. These have proven to be “protective factors” that contribute to a resilient culture.
Historical Trauma and Historical Loss
“Every tribe handles it (grief) differently,” she explains. However, as a Cherokee, it’s natural to avenge a death—which of course isn’t viable (or healthy) today. Instead, ceremonies have been created to help survivors deal with the loss. “Many people are very, very poor,” she says, “so it’s very important to honor all types of losses.” Dr. Horsley asks about rituals, and LaRue says many are private to the tribe.
“We don’t typically share the ceremony specifics with others,” LaRue says, which has been helpful to preserving the culture. Coming back to their culture, especially for Natives who didn’t grow up on a reservation, has been very helpful in optimizing resilience and in providing tradition and stability for the future. “Grieving as a collective, as a whole” is what Dr. Horsley considers a must for everyone grieving, and especially for the Native community.