This is not a dissertation


A few weeks ago, I met with John Poupart, from the American Indian Policy Center, at a Dunn Brothers in St. Paul, to talk about foster care and the whole out-of-home-placement issue as it relates to American Indians. We met for quite some time — he has been doing research about the issue for many years, in addition to his own personal experience with it.

I sat with my laptop, furiously taking notes, trying to mentally grasp all that he was saying, knowing that it was impossible for me to really understand it in entirety.

“This is far bigger than you think it is,” he said to me. “The whole issue is even larger than a thesis, when you think about it culturally, politically, historically, legally, socially, and economically. It’s mindboggling.”

“Great,” I thought to myself. So much for meeting my deadline of this week. I was going to have to get some more time. But Poupart was right. There are some topics that are so dense and layered with history and politics and practice that they’d really take a doctoral thesis to cover them. Unfortunately, I’m not working on a doctoral thesis. I’m working on one story.

At a certain point it becomes a negotiation with my conscience. I can’t justify working on a story for months and months, which is probably what this story really deserves, on my freelancer budget. So what do I do? I have to work with what I have. I talked to people within the Native community, as well as Native Americans and others working “in the system” in some way. I tried to grasp, as best I can, what is at stake.

Probably the most difficult aspect of the story, for me as a white woman to write about is historical trauma. It’s a term I’ve encountered before, and I feel like I was able to understand it a little more deeply as I was working on this story.

Even as I feel I’m starting to understand what historical trauma is, I feel really uncomfortable writing about it. Because who am I to explain these things? Shouldn’t it come from a voice that has experienced it?

Poupart said to me that, though he won’t say those who espouse historical trauma as a cause of the crisis of Americans being placed out of home are wrong, he prefers to focus on solutions, rather than the cause. As a writer, I think it’s important to talk about both. And while I may not have a complete understanding about the deep issues and histories that lead up to the problems we face today, I think it’s important to at least try.