Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Traci LeBrun
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Historical trauma presentation brought to Pine County board


November 29, 2018

Briana Michels, from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Learning and Development Services department, addressed the Pine County Board of Commissioners earlier this month on the topic of historical trauma. This past year, the county and the Band have been partnering to decrease the number of children going into out-of-home placements as a result of drug abuse and other abuses within the native community, which has been the majority of placements for the county.

Michels opened her time by asking the county board and audience present if they knew the Indian history from Big Sandy or what the Nelson Act was.

She went on to explain what happened during those events and what historical trauma is and its effects on a community. “At Big Sandy Lake, the tribes in that area were moved, and they lost many lives … and with the Nelson Act, everyone was forced to move to White Earth and were promised allotments and money for land through timber sales. We think about the history in the United States that we’re taught but not about native history,” said Michels.

More than 400 Native Americans died in the winter of 1850 after the government failed to deliver promised food and treaty payments at Big Sandy Lake, according to Minnesota Public Radio. Due to delayed and inadequate payments of annuities and lack of promised supplies, about 400 Ojibwe, mostly men and 12 percent of the tribe, died of disease, starvation, and freezing.

“Don’t feel bad about not knowing this; I too knew very little about this history,” she added when few in the room responded to the questions. “But think about what this does to a group of people.”

“Think about what creates a strong family: grandparents, parents, faith, jobs, money, and acceptance. It is this root system that creates a strong family,” said Michels. “What happens when you don’t have your parents? What happens when your religion is taken away or you no longer have love from your family because they’re not there?”

“When we think about historical trauma, we think about relocation, when you’re in a strange environment, and what happens to a child when they don’t have their parents,” said Michels.

“Knowing this history so we have an understanding as a people and why we are the way we are is important,” added Michels. “Chemical dependency, self-esteem issues, mental health problems, suicide, domestic violence, and homicide are all things that happen when you no longer have a root system.”

Michels said she brought the issue to the board to bring awareness to try to explain that the community is dealing with the symptoms of historical trauma. “Our people are growing up angry, and they don't even know why they are angry. We are seeing many people in the jail and a lot of dysfunction. We don’t want to be like this,” she said.

She added that to better foster a relationship between the county and the Band, it helps to know Indian history and understand the historical trauma within their community. She said she would like to bring training on this subject to the county.

County Commissioner Steve Hallan, of Pine City, questioned, “Going forward, what’s the next step to rebuild those roots for this next generation?”

Michels responded, “If we are going to work in a cohesive environment, we have to understand this. It will take healing and acknowledgment by everyone including our own people and government.” She also shared success stories of “people forgiving where they needed to forgive” from another district. Michels called the board to research this history and to understand what happened within the communities.

Hallan added, “I think we've seen what has transpired in the past several years isn’t working, and we have to do something different. About 100 kids per day are affected in Pine County.”

Brent Jahnz, Pine County Jail Programs Coordinator, said he attended a training on historical trauma. “It was very informative. The reason we don't know this is that it’s not in the history books, and the wounds are deep. These children were taken from their families and put in boarding schools and never saw their family again. It changed how I looked at the native population, and I began to see things differently in them. I had no idea. But the key is resilience and how you build resilience. You can't change what happened in the past but only how you behave on a daily basis.”

“The first thing that needs to be done is to restore the family,” added Jahnz.

“We do know, that no matter what happens, we are resilient,” said Michels.


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