Acknowledging our Histories

Section 9 of Division 39 of the American Psychological Association recently released an apology to Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiians for the psychological harms inflicted on indigenous peoples within territories claimed by the U.S. government.  The statement acknowledges the role of psychological professionals in creating harm to indigenous peoples' communities, through their dismissals of indigenous knowledge and healing practices and participation in attacks on indigenous communities.  Specifically, they acknowledge:

"Our use of diagnostic systems that do not honor cultural belief systems and world views; The inappropriate use of assessment techniques and procedures that have conveyed misleading and inaccurate messages about the abilities and capacities of Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian peoples; Conducting research that has benefited the careers of researchers rather than improved the lives of the Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian participants; Developing and applying treatments that have ignored Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian approaches to healing and that have, both implicitly and explicitly, dismissed the importance of culture in understanding and promoting social and emotional well-being; and, Our silence and lack of advocacy on important policy matters, such as the policy of forced removal and deliberate systemic assimilation policies, which resulted in the Stolen Generations."

They also list their active plans for solidarity in the future, including solidarity with water protectors at Standing Rock and a commitment to "Listening more and talking less; following more and steering less; advocating more and complying less; including more and ignoring less; and, collaborating more and commanding less."

People in the psychological professions bring skills, tools, and energy that can aid in healing from histories of trauma and oppression. But in order to build the trust that is necessary to work together, we need to acknowledge our profession's role in histories of harm.  We need to acknowledge these histories because they haven't disappeared. They are present in the counselling room every time a client pauses and wonders, "Will my culture be dismissed? Will I be stereotyped? Can I be vulnerable here, or do I need to keep my armor on and protect myself from settler assumptions that erase me?" Building trust is facilitated by naming the past, assessing our role in it, and embodying our commitment to do better in the present moment. 

As a counsellor, I believe that it is important to be careful and self-reflective about my own power, to center the strength and self-determination of my clients, and actively align myself with struggles for justice. I am grateful to be a part of a professional organization with others who share these values. 

You can read the full statement here: