We know the way we see and experience the world around us is influenced by many factors.
These include our culture, how we were raised, and the challenges we have overcome. The research around Adverse Childhood Experiences helps us understand more about how hardships and intensely stressful situations we go through early on in our lives can impact our brains as they develop. This can cause us to be constantly on “high alert” as we look for the next problem to come our way. This tendency to always be on the watch for danger or conflict takes a toll on our bodies, our minds, and our emotions. It can even change the way we deal with other people and the issues we are faced with every day.
Now, there is more research that helps connect how we are not only impacted by our own experiences, but by the things that have happened to our parents, grandparents, and others that have come before us, too. The field of study, called epigenetics, shows us how the trauma and adverse experiences that our relatives went through may sometimes be passed down to us at a cellular level -- through our bodies and genetic makeup. This does not change our DNA itself but helps us adapt to the world around us through changing how our genes are read. It is like turning a light switch on or off. Some switches are activated and light up, allowing the gene to be read, where others are not needed and stay dark.
The new scientific research is especially interesting because it helps us see how the difficult experiences whole groups of people went through in the past are still being felt in our communities today. An example of this can be seen in the descendants of Dutch who lived during World War II. There was a particularly hard winter when food supplies were cut off because of the war. Known as the Dutch Hunger Winter, many Dutch died of starvation. Those who survived were extremely malnourished.
Studies followed the children and grandchildren of the Dutch who directly experienced these conditions. They saw changes in their health outcomes and how long they lived. Scientists found the experiences of the Dutch who lived during the famine passed down genes that were “turned off.” This slowed down the metabolism of their children and grandchildren. These findings and others helped scientists understand how stress in a parent’s life can also reprogram their children’s health, even before they are born.
Presentation planned Oct. 16
An upcoming presentation, Understanding Historical Trauma to Strengthen Community, aims to help us expand our perspectives to better understand the past and change how we see and relate to our neighbors, family, friends and community.
The presentation will explain more about these ideas and look at how American Indian communities have been impacted by different moments in history. It will help start a conversation on how we can come together to support each other. We will explore how we can create families, neighborhoods and communities where all children and adults can be happy, healthy and successful.
The event is co-sponsored by Adverse Childhood Experiences Resiliency Coalition and Central Lakes College. There will be two opportunities to attend the presentation, on Oct. 16 at Chalberg Theatre at Central Lakes College. Times are 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. The presenter is Linsey McMurrin, director of Prevention Initiatives with Minnesota Communities Caring for Children. She is a citizen of the Leech Lake Nation of Ojibwe.
McMurrin works as a prevention specialist with Peacemaker Resources, assisting with cultural responsiveness in the Bemidji community and beyond. McMurrin is a strong advocate of social justice and community-driven work, and believes the development of cultural, social, and emotional competencies is integral to our well-being and ongoing success -- as individuals, families and communities.