Ancestors In Conflict

Window_As_Magic_LanternThe other day I found myself in renewed conversation with a few Native friends, discussing the presence of the Ancestors in our everyday lives. There was shared agreement that the Ancestors are often close at hand, offering perspective and advice, although the frequency and immediacy of contact was wildly variable amongst those present. All of us are of mixed Native and European ancestry, and agree that much of the Ancestral conflict we experience is between settlers and Natives.

Western psychology was born out of attempts to understand and address the suffering caused by the internalized conflicts of clients. Freud, Jung, and Adler were engaged in projects that addressed internal dramas. Later, Moreno codified theatrical approaches to mind as he developed psychodrama. These approaches have received some cross-cultural validation as we have begun to understand something about the neurobiology of thought.

The Western understanding of internal conflicts has tended to assign them to the individual, while acknowledging that the conflicting needs and agendas of others can be internalized. This idea of internal conflict is, clinically, a very useful idea. After all, who does not experience divisive differences in the points of view of parts of self?

Conflict seems inherent to psyche and ecosystem. Perhaps it is simply an aspect of complex systems. That said, it is important to remember that cooperation is an even more salient aspect of Nature; if parts of complex systems cannot cooperate, chaos ensues.

Let’s return to the settlers and Natives. All of us in our small group were raised in European culture, although with significant marginalization. Our recent Ancestors wrestled with whether to fully assimilate. I’m pretty sure my parents fought over this, my mom being more determined to assimilate than my dad; I suspect she pretty much determining how little we knew about our recent roots. This family drama led to some truly bizarre experiences for my sister and me, and, I suspect, my parents.

Anyway, these days I am increasingly aware that both my Native and settler Ancestors are aspects of psyche, even as they are spirit beings. Both groups carry a great deal of trauma, with the settlers holding an additional burden of denial. Sometimes they are able to set aside their animosity and compare notes on their suffering. When that happens, there is mistrust, but also compassion. I guess their struggles are not that different from those of other parts of self: when parties listen carefully and compassionately to each other, conflict tends to wither.

Creating opportunities for the varied voices to share can be exhausting, even as it is rewarding. I guess four hundred years of conflict and sorrow take a while to sort through and heal. It does not help that settler culture keeps intentionally retraumatizing Natives. Generations of raped women, displaced families, and terrified children live within, and we cannot assure them that the violence has stopped. Truth is, all those traumas are continuing. I imagine the fact that there has not been a real apology from the settlers (nor have Natives been given an appropriate role in the Constitution), contributes to the ongoing rage and mistrust. Some days the sides can’t even agree on the shape of the negotiating table.

What Ancestral conflicts do you carry? Are the traumas in the past, or ongoing? How do you address them?

 

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19 thoughts on “Ancestors In Conflict

  1. reading this, i’ve got a sense that working on the ancestral stuff would be quite ok for my psyche. I do not have the proper relations to my human ancestral line. I always denied this part myself, simply because i understand that death is not the end, just the transitory state of affairs. The broader varieties of our human families i cherish and deeply respect, i am also in deep respect to the totality of ancestral within animal, plant and mineral. However having been promised a lot from my ancestral line and after my grandparent gone denied that, while i foresaw that other people – my parents got what was actually mine; i carry quite a wound around the issue. Having said that it is perhaps not in regards my ancestors themselves but the issues that are tied – the conflict in the families; that stems from ancestral conflicts…

  2. I suspect that ancestral conflict or cross-generational trauma impact is present in many more people than we might think. Anytime there was trauma in our parent and/or grandparent generation, we are being raised with the effects of that trauma, spoken or unspoken. My parents were children during World War II while my grandparents were children during World War i and raised their own children during WWII. Then there are the children of Vietnam Vets in this country, the African American children of parents who suffered thru the chaotic times of the 60s (and more indirectly, their ancestry going back to centuries of slavery), certain European immigrants who were considered less intelligent and less valuable, centuries of Indigenous oppression (even now still ongoing)….how can anyone escape and not have ancestral conflict, unless they stick their head in the sand and pretend their life is a blank slate?

  3. I think that we are a part of the choices as our ancestors took in their time. How we are raised, which stories we were told and then our own good and less good choices in this life. I try to meditate and find my way in this life. Work spiritual helps too. Very interesting post Michael

  4. I have spent a great deal of time working through my own individual healing so I can be stable enough to go deeper into ancestral healing. I feel a responsibility to help reconnect those ancestral roots into the earth. There has been a huge amount of displacement and ungroundedness along my family tree, which is an extension of my own journey. I am determined that the buck stops with me, so to speak. Your posts help me make sense of that extended social and familial healing. Many thanks.

  5. Michael, with your permission, I’d like to run this essay on THE MIX. It’s important. My best to you brother for your wonderful writing!

  6. Excellent article Michael! I’m from the Caribbean, which is a supreme melting pot (albeit a micro one compared to the US), so I quite understand the internal conflicts which can hound us. We’re made up of so many slices that don’t always sit well with each other. It can sometimes lead to confusion about identity, exacerbated by a history of frequently being “the lesser”.

    • Shery, a couple of weeks ago we had the great good fortune to have lunch with a group of Island people (Caribbean and Portuguese speaking). The topic of complexity inevitably came up, along with the challenges of being very visible professional people who have a deep involvement with the spirits. One of the women, a neuroscientist, laughed and told a story about how her colleagues just can’t wrap their minds around her ability to hold both science and spirits. She is eminent in her field, so they cannot make her lesser for her beliefs, dark skin tones, or Island heritage. Yet, we all acknowledged the presence of racism and classism in our lives, and the conflicts that arise between our sometimes divided sense of self. So many slices created by those colonizing ideas and techniques!

  7. A few years ago, when we discovered that French ancestors had participated in the First Crusade, we told our kids, “So now we can say with reasonable certainty that your grandmother’s ancestors massacred your grandfather’s ancestors (Jews) on the way to the Holy Land.”
    History repeats itself, pogrom by pogrom, but the First Crusade happened almost a thousand years ago, and we don’t feel the same personal and family loss that we feel from the horror of the holocaust, only 70 years ago. In WWII half our family was murdered, people close enough to touch and remember, and leaving a vacuum and forcing us to step into a future that feels incomplete and severely altered.
    The First People have suffered genocide, loss of land and culture, and the attacks, theft, and discrimination are ongoing. There is no Israel (right or wrong) for them to retreat to–only the barren and unproductive reservation lands doled out to them after they almost everything else was stolen. It’s a testament to their spirit that so much of the culture survives after centuries of mistreatment. It’s sad and shameful, how cruel people have been to each other throughout history. It is sad and shameful and surprising to me how cruel they can be to each other, even in these modern times.

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