In this episode of Reawakening the Spirit podcast, host Tyesha Wood discusses trauma and human trafficking in Tribal communities with guest Heather Atsye (Pueblo Laguna). Heather shares her insight on intergenerational trauma, complex trauma, and personal trauma discussing and their connection to human trafficking and impact on Tribal communities. "Our trauma goes unspoken...part of our identities were lost." Heather is a human trafficking victim advocate and certified peer support worker at The Life Link: Sojourner's Advocacy Cafe and a member of the Human Trafficking Capacity Building Center's American Indian and Alaska Native Advisory Committee.
0:30 - Heather introduction
2:38 - Trauma overview
3:56 - Trauma in Tribal communities
5:54 - Trauma and its impact on daily life
8:18 - Trauma and human trafficking
11:40 - Complex, intergenerational, and historical trauma
16:20 - Safeguarding Native youth
17:26 - Talking about trauma and reinvigorating cultural traditions
20:15 - Closing
Mentioned In This Episode
- Pueblo Laguna Tribe
- The Life Link: Sojourner’s Advocacy Café
- Understanding Trauma
- Understanding the Impact of Intergenerational Trauma
- Sample - Human Trafficking Social Media Posts for Tribal Communities
- The Trauma Toolkit
- Healing Indigenous Lives: Native Youth Responses to Tribal Leaders
- Talking Circle: Trauma and Human Trafficking in Tribal Communities
- Talking Circle: Safeguarding Our Children from Human Trafficking: Using Culture as A Protective and Healing Influence Among Native Youth
- Human Trafficking Capacity Building Center
- Office for Victims of Crime
Contact the Human Trafficking Capacity Building Center at [email protected] or 1-844-682-0411.
U.S. Department of Justice Disclaimer. this project was supported by Contract No GS-00F-008DA awarded to Booz Allen Hamilton by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view or opinions in this podcast do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Human trafficking is a difficult and sensitive topic. Throughout the episode we may discuss issues related to human trafficking such as trauma, kidnapping, domestic, dating, and sexual violence, and victimization. Opinions and points of view expressed in this podcast are those of the presenters and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the Department of Justice. As you listen to this conversation, the Human Trafficking Capacity Building Center encourages you to take time for your own well-being and care. Please do not hesitate to take a break from listening. If you need support or to talk with someone, please contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. We hope you find the podcast informative and helpful.
Welcome to the Reawakening the Spirit Podcast, a safe space to have real discussions about human trafficking in Tribal communities. My name is Tyesha Wood and I will be your host for Reawakening the Spirit. I am a member of the Navajo Nation. (Speaks in Native language). Thank you for joining us.
Our guest today is Heather Atsye. Heather is a member of the Laguna Pueblo Tribal Community located in New Mexico. Heather, welcome.
Thank you. Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
It's a pleasure to have you here. So Heather, let's begin with your story. All right? How did you get started on this journey of doing human trafficking work?
I've been doing human trafficking work for a little over 10 years now. I got into it through my mentor, who's Lynn Sanchez, who's the supervisor/director for the Human Trafficking Aftercare Program through the Life Link in Santa Fe, which is my current employer. But I guess you could say I was a disadvantaged youth. I was a child of the system, the Tribal court system, and I kind of was moved around all over the state as a youth. And I ultimately ended up in Santa Fe and being in Santa Fe with no support system or any kind of resources, I kind of got into the system as an adult and ultimately was court ordered to attend community services with the Life Link. So, I started off as a client, and working with our outreach program called Sojourners, which is located in Santa Fe, I kind of just started volunteering and kind of, I guess, putting in my time and I started working with other community members and partners in Santa Fe through social justice, cultural competency, and economic work.
So, I kind of was given an opportunity by my mentor, Lynn Sanchez, to become a certified peer support worker with Life Link, and I received my first client back in 2012. And I just kind of kept working at it and I've gone off and done other work, but ultimately this is what I've been doing for the last 10 years.
Now, our topic today is human trafficking and trauma. I want to talk a little bit about trauma. Heather, how would you define trauma? What is it exactly?
Trauma, I feel like is a combination of emotional, physical abuse that an individual goes through over the years that can stem from stigmas. And I think for the Native American population, it really is more the stigmas behind being a Native American in today's modern world and the generational trauma from centuries on and on through colonialism and assimilation, to where we've kind of forgotten who we as people are. And with that goes trying to survive in the world around us and trying to relearn who ourselves are.
I think a lot of Tribal communities have dealt with abandonment, death, genocide in our communities, and just trying to navigate, I guess, the white man's world, if you will. But I think our trauma as Native American individuals stems from a lot of what our relatives have gone through in the past.
So, trauma results from physically and emotionally harmful or threatening experiences. Now Heather, how is trauma in our Native communities different from trauma that non-Natives might experience?
I think our trauma and the difference between non-Natives and ours, is that we don't have the support in our communities that normal, well, other communities would have, so our trauma goes unspoken, and we have that mentality to keep it inside and not talk about it. And so, it stems from our parents, from our grandparents, and just kind of putting it on the back burner, and we don't have a way to deal with it, so each generation is just a learned experience of what we saw, what we were taught, and what just goes unspoken. Where non-Natives, they have the resources to address the mental health portion and the trauma that goes with it. And I think because our communities are so rural and we have that sovereignty, it's hard for us to trust anybody else outside our communities.
We just have this ideal that anything that is non-Native is wrong, and so I think going into when you grow up and you start experiencing stuff outside our communities, it's different for us and we don't know how to take it all in, and then we resort back to our learned behaviors like alcoholism, drug abuse, physical abuse, and emotional abuse. And so I think that's the difference between non-Natives and us, is that we don't have a way to have an outlet for it.
So, you used a lot of words, rural and Native and non-Native, and from those experiences in our daily lives, there is a difference between non-Native and Native life. Now, how does trauma impact a person's daily life? Can you provide some examples on that?
Yes, what I see commonly working in this field is the isolation with individuals, not being able to open up. And so when you see an individual who's very isolated, introverted, it's hard for them to communicate what their needs are. And that could be anything from basic life skills, learning how to do your laundry or making a doctor's appointment, or even navigating the transportation system. They most likely don't have a car. Most individuals who have trauma don't have that kind of sense of basic life skills that me and you might have.
Also, just being able to communicate that they're alone. And I think a lot of us feel like we can be alone by ourselves, but ultimately that affects the way we function on a social level, on just being able to, again, communicate your needs. I mean, I could go on about how individuals are impacted daily, but I think it's really just meeting those basic life skills of building a routine, maybe cooking for yourself, keeping your hygiene up, and just all those basic life skills that we take for granted. It's very hard for them to address that.
I've had individuals when we first house them, they won't communicate with us for about a week or two because they're finally in a space where they feel safe, but they're still at that point in their lives to where they can't communicate what they still need. But yeah, I mean, just, again, that communication is, I think, probably the one that I see most affected.
Trauma impacts all aspects of an individual's mental, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing and can show differently with each individual. Heather, every day you work with survivors of human trafficking on their healing journey. This is amazing. Could you tell us more about how trauma relates to human trafficking, specifically within our Tribal communities?
I think trauma in our communities, I feel like we're always seeking that support. And I see it a lot in our youth and they really want to connect, and I feel like this is the bad part of social media, but they find that connection online and they kind of build unhealthy behaviors. And again, these could be learned behaviors from their family, their environment. Human trafficking in our communities can be seen so differently. And a lot of people think it's like, and I'm not saying that this doesn't happen, but it's where somebody, a non-native, comes onto the reservation and then they take individuals off the reservation. Well, I've seen where individuals are coerced by their families and taken advantage to where human trafficking starts to begin. And it could be anywhere from utilizing money from their families, say somebody gets disability benefits and they extort their family members by using their money and then having the individual go out and make that money to keep whatever habits going on. It could be a survival tactic for paying rent, or it could be a substance abuse habit that they're trying to keep up and they're exploiting their family members.
And then you see individuals who have significant others who exploit them, and that's where that emotional, mental abuse comes in, and ultimately becomes physical to where it's kind of like a Stockholm syndrome, to where they believe that their abusers love them and they're unable to leave them, and if they do leave, there's threatening behavior toward either family members, friends, any kind of support that they might have, to where they isolate them and then ultimately get them into a position to where they put them at a unsafe place where they start doing unhealthy behavior like sexual acts or even panhandling.
I feel like the trauma in our communities is really just us trying to reach out and have that support, and when it's not there, we outsource for it and then it becomes an unsafe situation to where then you're going to be exploited by other members of the community or outside the community. So, it's different in different communities, but I think that is the real issue, is trying to find that support.
Heather, you made some great points, and I heard a lot about possible isolation, but when someone breaks through and tries to reach for help that help and that support may not be there, and it's not just a one-time experience, this could happen over and over. And so individuals in human trafficking situation often experience this complex trauma. Complex trauma basically is when someone is exposed to multiple traumatic events over time, and this is what you've talked about.
Now, Heather, you talked about complex trauma and even mentioned historical trauma. Can you talk a little bit more about historical and intergenerational trauma and how those aspects relate to human trafficking?
Yes, with historical trauma... I'm from the Pueblo Laguna, I come from the Pueblo communities here in New Mexico. There's 19 of them left. We were colonized by the Spanish here in New Mexico, so with that comes the Spanish integrating with the Tribal communities here. And it wasn't just the Pueblos at the time, there were Apaches, Utes, Navajos, and there were other Tribes here. But the Pueblos are the ones that are remembered for fighting back and taking back some of our historical sacred places here in New Mexico, generally the Four Corners region.
But even after the Pueblo Revolt, there was still a strong Spanish presence here to where Catholicism was the religion that they tried to integrate us into, and that led to desecration of our sacred spots, like our Kivas. We didn't have rights as Native Americans or citizens until the 1950s. And you think historical trauma and you think back hundreds of years ago, but really it was only about 60 years ago, which is not that long ago.
Heather that’s a good point. Historical trauma doesn’t always mean hundreds of years ago. The historical trauma that your sharing happened to your parents and to your grandparents. This trauma that occurred much more recently. Can you tell me a little bit more about the trauma that occurred within your community?
When they started trying to integrate us into the Catholic religion, they started taking youth out of households. And we hear about the boarding schools that we were sent to, well, that my grandparents and their parents were sent to. And learning about the modern world at the time and coming back and trying to integrate what they've learned at those schools and implemented in into the families that we currently have and so… I think now with that trauma, and it's funny because I've asked my grandparents a couple of times, it's kind of like, "Why do we go to church and then we go into the Kiva?" It's a little confusing there. And the only answer I really got from either side was, "That's what I was taught."
And going back to being at the boarding schools, they were abused, they were taught to forget who they were as individuals, they were taught not to speak our language. Anything that had to do with our traditions was forbidden. And so with that, trying to keep our cultures alive now, it's hard, because a lot of it was lost, meaning a part of our identities were lost. And so, I think we're still trying to come back from that and unlearn what was taught back then.
Wow. I really appreciate what you are saying. A lot of the historical trauma has caused our people to lose our identity. To become disconnected from our culture and heritage. This goes back to your point earlier about wanting to get connected. Heather, how are you seeing the young people in our communities, how do they address that trauma and feel that connectivity void?
Today, again, where social media is very big, but it's also very abused, and I think education around that is very important. I have an 11-year-old and she is considered an urban Indian because she didn't grow up on the reservation. I grew up on the reservation, and so the way she grew up and the way I grew up were totally different, completely different sets of communities, to where I was able to go out and play outside, and now, today, we live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we can't let her just go outside and play. It's not as safe as it would be back when I was young.
There's so much out there that we don't know about that these younger kids get into to where, I mean, she communicates really well with me. She tells me a lot of things about what she's doing on her games and stuff like that. And I monitor a lot of what she does. But even in that, there could be some stuff that she's not telling me. I'm just going to take her word for it. And it's kind of like being on the reservation, to where you don't talk about things you're not supposed to talk about. It's not supposed to be brought up. And again, that's where we start reaching out to people who we can talk to.
And again, it stems from that trauma that we've learned over the years, that our parents have learned over the years, that our grandparents have learned over the years, where it's trickled down and now we're trying to break that cycle. And I think that's where we're kind of trying to take care of our trauma. Again, communication is big.
So many important points. What we need to do is offer outlets for connectivity and keep communication lines open, right?
So I think that's where a lot of our generational trauma comes is from those boarding schools. And it's so funny because she wants to go to SFIS, which is Santa Fe Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and it's a boarding school, but now it's run by all 19 pueblos, and back in the day it wasn't.
I never wanted to go to a boarding school. I was like, "No, don't send me away, please." Because that's what it really was, you were being sent away. To whereas now it's been taken over by Tribal communities to where it is now a Tribal school and that's the school that she really wants to go to, because now they really have a good system over there.
So yeah, I think we're really trying to unlearn a lot of the trauma that we were taught, but there's still stuff there and it's that communication key, that communication part, that we're really trying to learn.
That story resonates with so many other people in terms of all the Tribes who've suffered from boarding schools, relocation, forced to not speak the language, and then now those Tribes, they have programs to reengage with the culture and learn the language and like I said, it resonates, because I think a lot of us can identify with what you just described. So, thank you for sharing that.
I wasn't shipped off to a boarding school, but I was shipped off to different locations in the state when I was a youth. And so when I hear my daughter being like, "I want to go out and study abroad," I'm like, "No, don't do it." But ultimately, it's a good thing, it should be a good thing. And that's where my trauma comes from, is just being sent away, so I'm reluctant about it, but I know she's getting older and I know she has a lot of opportunities coming so I should be considerate of that, but I'm also just really... She's a young kid, she's a young Native American girl, and it's scary out there.
We talked about so much today, Heather, and I appreciate all the insight that you've been able to share with us. To close, Heather, what do you hope our listeners take away from this conversation today?
I hope from what you got out of our conversation that maybe there's a little bit of education behind there, being aware of individuals who are trying to isolate. If you have a family member who's isolated or doesn't have that support, maybe you reach out to them. If work in the system and you consistently see the same kid over and over and over, reach out to that individual and see what's going on at home. Because I feel like that's how I was, I don't want to say saved, but got an opportunity to change my path around, is I had a judge who was kind of like... I had been in and out and she was the one that was kind of like, "Okay, I'm going to give you a chance and this is your chance to either take it into consideration or just keep doing what you're going to do because you're just going to end up right back here." And fortunately I was able to realize what was going on and I changed my life around for the better.
Really just, I guess, pay attention. Pay attention to the youth, pay attention to our elders, who, again, don't have that support. Pay attention to our kids who are on the internet or who are gaming. I know it's a break from us adults who are so busy with ourselves, but we really have to look out for one another as a household. And just, I guess, be mindful about some resources that are in the communities, because they're there for a reason.
I know most communities are really getting better addressing the behavioral health portion and the trauma within the community and making it more open to discussion and opening up those safe spaces to talk about things like that. So look at your local resources in the area, and if you have questions, feel free to give myself a call. I'm really good at looking for resources. But yeah, ask those questions. Are you safe? Do you need anything? Is anybody at home? Do you have food? It's really about just being a support and building rapport with your community.
Thank you, Heather Atsye, for being our very first guest on Reawakening podcast. I'd also like to say a special thank you to our listeners for being here and sharing your time with us.
Opinions or points of view expressed in these recordings represent those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Any commercial products and manufacturers discussed in these recordings are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.