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Innovations in methods and measures of historical trauma and microaggression distress

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


Karina L. Walters, M.S.W., Ph.D.
Associate Dean for Research
William P. and Ruth Gerberding Endowed University Professor
Indigenous Wellness Research Institute, University of Washington

Dr. Walters’s research focuses on historical, social, and cultural determinants of physical and mental health among American Indians and Alaska Natives. She serves as the principal investigator on several groundbreaking NIH-funded studies associated with health-risk outcomes among American Indian individuals, families, and communities. These include the most recently NIDA-funded five-year project to refine and test the efficacy of Yappalli Choctaw Road to Health and the NIMH-funded HONOR Project. The Yappalli project is a culturally focused, strengths-based outdoor experiential health-leadership program that addresses obesity and substance-use risk prevention in at-risk adult Choctaw women (N=150) across five regions of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. The HONOR Project is a nationwide health survey that examines the impact of historical trauma, discrimination, and other stressors on the health and wellness of Native American lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and two-spirited men and women.


American Indians and Alaska Natives have endured a succession of historically traumatic assaults and discriminatory events over time against their land, communities, families, and persons. Indigenous community discourse suggests that historical trauma combined with contemporary microaggressions distress can potentially become embodied in health outcomes and health-risk behaviors, particularly substance-use-related risk. Dr. Walters’s presentation will describe how historical trauma and microaggressions impact indigenous embodiment of health in a six-site national study of 447 gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other sexual-minority (two-spirit) American Indians/Alaska Natives. Results indicated that after controlling for childhood and adult traumatic-event exposure and combat exposure, historical trauma-event exposure in previous generations was associated with contemporary substance-use outcomes. Additionally, high levels self-reported discrimination distress and historical trauma loss was associated with higher odds of physical pain and impairment and non-ceremonial tobacco use. Moreover, high levels of positive-identity attitudes were associated with lower odds of physical pain and impairment as well as self-rated poor health. Congruent with the indigenist stress-coping model, identity attitudes moderated the influence of discrimination distress and historical trauma loss on self-rated health and smoking behaviors. Future directions for measurement development and research related to historical trauma and microaggression distress will be highlighted.

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