Epigenetics. What is it? What could it possibly have to do with National Aboriginal History Month?
Psychologists have long known that traumatic experiences in one generation can affect subsequent generations. Genetics now has an explanation for this. It is called Epigenetics – derived from the word “Epi” meaning “around”. It refers to the changes in gene expression that come when the environment surrounding the gene changes. When people are traumatically stressed their bodies produce more stress hormones. Gene RNA, particularly in the brain, blood and sex cells appear to be most impacted. Behavioural and metabolic changes, made in adaptation to the stressor, can then be passed on to the off-spring, even though they themselves were not traumatized. Researchers have found this to be so even in the third generation.
If we are to look honestly at the history of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis in this country we need to pay attention to the remarkable fact that despite the many, and on-going traumas inflicted upon their cultures, they have survived and even thrived. In many cases this happened, again, because of epigenetics. Trauma was undone at a cellular level by the ancient traditions which recognized as psychologist Thomas Hora said, “All problems are psychological, but all solutions are spiritual.”
The next few reflections will be about some of the times when good relations were not the order of the day and ancient practices were required so that life could continue.