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Indian Interrupted Teaching Notes By Ane Berrett Additional Background Information

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Indian Interrupted

Teaching Notes

By Ane Berrett

Additional Background Information

Developmental psychologists have theorized the formation of identity occurs in stages or cycles throughout a lifespan. Erik Erikson, a leader in developmental theory, identified eight developmental stages occurring over the life span. The first stages from birth to age 12, “Trust versus Mistrust”, “Shame versus Autonomy”, “and Initiative versus Guilt” and Competence versus Inferiority have a dialectical task to resolve to create the foundation of an adult identity. See appendix entitled, “Eight Ages of Man.”

Erikson’s research included field work with the Oglala Sioux of Pine Ridge, South Dakota and the Yurok tribe of Northern California. In these contexts he noted emotional problems resulting from disconnection from past tribal history and difficulty adapting to white man’s culture. He theorized that the development of identity occurs through socialization within community. Trust, Autonomy, Initiative and Competence are ego strengths which develop through reciprocal relationships between an individual to immediate family, extended family and community members. Within the belief systems of indigenous societies, this reciprocal relationship also includes geographical place, and the longitudinal and geometrically expanding society of ancestors and progenitors
Learning Objectives:

1) Create a personal working definition of Native Identity

  1. Define the stages of development as described by Erik Erikson and apply these stages to this man’s story

  2. Describe the socio-cultural events from a macro to micro view that interrupted development of his Native Identity

  3. Identify the mal-adaptive and adaptive behaviors he exhibits in his story

  4. Explain the bio-psycho-social impacts of trauma from developmental interruption and apply to his story.

  5. Create a personal plan to support your Native identity healing and recovery.

  6. Create a strategic plan that could be adapted for tribal government and schools to aid Native Americans as they reconnect to their native identity and place of origin. Present to local leaders and policy makers of these institutions.

Key words:

identity, developmental stages, life span development, looking glass theory, attachment theory, trauma, violence, assimilation, colonialization, macro, meso, micro societies

Intended Audience:

This course is designed to be taught within college level courses. Suitable for Sociology, Psychology and Human Service courses and is helpful for students to have a basic understanding of Erik Erikson’s stages of development. It would adapt well to a seminar imbedded in a Human Services course of study or training and orientation workshops for instructors and mental health care workers serving Native American students.


This case provides students the opportunity to synthesize multiple aspects of identity from a psychological, developmental, biological and socio-cultural view points in relationship to a story related by a Native American man. This is designed to be taught as an interrupted case.

Part 1: Identity

To set the stages for this work ask students to list attributes of their identity. Then pair-share students into dyads where they introduce each other to their partner based on their definition of “self”

Assign each pair to create a poster answering the following three questions:

  • What is identity?

  • How does an identity develop?

  • What is Native Identity?

Part 2: Developmental Theory and Socialization

Assign students to read the first segment of this story, “I Never Knew My Father”. Provide students with background information and readings on Erik Erikson’s developmental stages focusing on the first three stages.

Divide students into three groups each representing one of the first three developmental stages: mistrust versus trust, shame versus autonomy and guilt versus initiative. How do mistrust, shame and guilt apply to identity interrupted? Assign students to discuss and analyze the positive and negative socialization (colonialization, assimilation) impacting his emerging identity during his childhood years.

Apply Cooley’s “Looking Glass Theory” as it applies to these developmental phases and define the quality of the reciprocal relationships in these contexts. Present findings to class. (See appendix for description of this theory)

Part 3: Biology and Trauma

Assign students to read the second segment of this story, “Fight or Flight”.

Class discussion questions:

  • Does he experience trauma related to identity?

  • Identify the physical, social/emotional, spiritual and mental symptoms he exhibits relating to trauma?

Research question: Assign students to research the biological impacts and resultant symptoms of trauma and present findings to class.

A concise and easy to understand resource for research is contained in the book listed in Additional resources entitled: Who Switched off My Brain? By Caroline Leaf

Part 4: Healing and Recovery

a) Read the last segment of this story, “Coming Home.”

b) Discussion questions: How did this man heal? Identify his resilience factors? How did he establish new orientations to his social world? (Divide into pair-share or three groups and assign each group one of the three questions. Create a poster and share findings with larger group.)

c) Concluding assignment:

Write personal story. Apply developmental theory to personal story as it applies to understanding Native Identity. Examine family, tribal and ancestor creation stories as they apply to the development of native identity. Explore personal adaptive and maladaptive behaviors resulting from identity interrupted.

Service learning assignment: (optional)

Discussion question: How can native communities support native people to re-orient identity based on Erikson’s theories?

Students will collaborate in individual groups or as a class to interview tribal members, students and then create a strategic plan to present to tribal schools and local governments which aid and support Native Identity.
Additional Resources and References

Anderson, Kim and Bonita Lawrence, editors. Strong Women Stories – Native Vision and Cultural Survival. Sumach Press, 2003 (This contains more stories to apply Erikson’s developmental model)

Childre, Doc and Howard Martin, The Heartmath Solution, Harper Collins, 1999
Cooley, Charles Horton, Human Nature and the Social Order, New York: Scribner’s, 1902, pp 179-185
Erikson, Erik, Childhood and Society, (Chapter 7), W. W. Norton & Company, 1963
Erikson, Erik, Identity Youth and Crisis, (Chapter 3) W. W. Norton & Company, 1968
Elkind, David, Erik Erikson’s Eight Ages of Man, The New York Times Magazine. (1970, April 5)
Gilligan James, MD, Violence. Grossett/Putnam Books, New York, 1996
Herman, J. L. Trauma and recovery, Basic Books, New York, 1992
Iverson, Lisa B. Ancestral Blueprints-Revealing Invisible Truths in America’s Soul, Family Constellations West Publishing, 2009
Leaf, Caroline, PhD, Who Switched Off My Brain? Leaf, 2007
Levine, Peter A., Waking the Tiger – Healing Trauma, North Atlantic Books, 1997
Naparstek, Belleruth. Invisible Heroes, Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal. Bantam Dell, New York, 2004

Neuropsychology of PTSD: biological, cognitive, and clinical perspectives, edited by Jennifer J Vasterling, PhD and Chris R. Brown, PhD, Guilford Press 2005
Terr, Lenore. Unchained memories: True stories of traumatic memories, lost and found. Basic Books, New York, 1940
Van Der Polk, Traumatic stress: the effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body, and society, Guilford Press 1996

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