Dandelion Effect Podcast - Linda Kinsey: Healing Historical Trauma

Linda Kinsey: Healing Historical Trauma

Historical trauma is a new model in public health that suggests that populations historically subjected to long-term, mass trauma—such as slavery, the Holocaust, forced migration, and the violent colonization of Native Americans—exhibit a higher prevalence of disease even several generations after the original trauma occurred. This model is backed by research in the field of epigenetics, which studies how trauma changes our DNA and is thus passed on to future generations, making them more susceptible to certain mental and physical conditions.

In understanding how to move forward and break the cycle of historical trauma, we have to ask the question: What does historical healing look like?

That’s the topic of today’s conversation with Linda Kinsey, a member of the A’aninin Nation or the “White Clay People”. She is the Native Connections Director for Helena Indian Alliance, helping secure grants for suicide prevention services for native youth ages 12-24, and she also serves with RISE: Reaching Indian Students Everywhere, to educate people on Native American history and encourage folks to learn who they are by learning where they came from.

When it comes to reconciling the history of genocide of Native Americans in this country, the idea of generational trauma is just starting to creep into the vernacular and shed light on the compounding issues they face in modern society—a world in which they’re expected to bounce back from a century of intentional erasure. And Linda believes that many people don’t understand the current statistics of high suicide rates, alcoholism and substance abuse and chronic disease among native communities is because we don’t often learn about the true history of this country. The hundreds of years leading up to where we are now as a collective.

In her former long-standing role as the director of a Tribal Treatment Center in her hometown of Fort Belknap, Montana—and as a native woman growing up on a reservation in the 1970s—Linda experienced and witnessed the consequences of historical and generational trauma, and she’s dedicated her life to healing herself and integrating her own family’s history and helping others do the same.

This conversation is very special for us because Linda’s tribal family caretakes a Feathered Pipe, a relic that has been with their community for thousands of years and is a symbol of resilience, faith and connection. It’s actually because of this relic that she wanted to come visit the Feathered Pipe Ranch in 2021 for the concert with Navajo flutist R. Carlos Nakai. We talk about her feeling when visiting the Ranch and the belief that a place can preserve and protect particular energies just as pipes can hold centuries of prayers and energies, too.

Linda teaches us about the importance of balance, growing up in a household of natives and non-natives, democrats and republicans, catholics and protestants. Her whole life, she’s been in the middle, which has proven to be the superpower behind her capacity to hold many experiences and emotions at once. This ability is a necessity in today’s world and perhaps a necessity that has always existed, considering the ancient wisdom teachings of the Eastern traditions and indigenous peoples everywhere.

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Episode Transcript

Linda Kinsey  00:01
Historic trauma has got to have an opposite to it. There can’t be just the trauma. Again, back to that balance. Why don’t we also use that word with historic healing? Because while a lot of our history has trauma to it, doesn’t a lot of our history also have healing to it?

Andy Vantrease  00:37
Welcome to the Dandelion Effect Podcast, a space for organic conversation about the magic of living a connected life. Just like the natural world around us, we are all linked through an intricate web, a never-ending ripple that spans across the globe. Here, we explore the ideas that our guests carry through the world, remember who and what inspired them along the way, and uncover the seeds that helped them blossom into their unique version of this human experience. This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, whose mission is to help people find their direction through access to programs and experiences that support healing, education, community and empowerment.

Historical trauma is a new model in public health that suggests that populations historically subjected to long-term, mass trauma—such as slavery, the Holocaust, forced migration, and the violent colonization of Native Americans—exhibit a higher prevalence of disease even several generations after the original trauma occurred. This model is backed by research in the field of epigenetics, which studies how trauma changes our DNA and is thus passed on to future generations, making them more susceptible to certain mental and physical conditions.

In understanding how to move forward and break the cycle of historical trauma, we also have to ask the question: What does historical healing look like?

That’s the topic of today’s conversation with Linda Kinsey, a member of the A’aninin Nation or the “White Clay People”. She is the Native Connections Director for Helena Indian Alliance, helping secure grants for suicide prevention services for native youth ages 12-24, and she also serves with RISE: Reaching Indian Students Everywhere, to educate people on Native American history and encourage folks to learn who they are by learning where they came from.

When it comes to reconciling the history of genocide of Native Americans in this country, the idea of generational trauma is just starting to creep into the vernacular and shed light on the compounding issues they face in modern society—a world in which they’re expected to bounce back from a century of intentional erasure. And Linda believes that many people don’t understand the current statistics of high suicide rates, alcoholism and substance abuse and chronic disease among native communities is because we don’t often learn about the true history of this country. The hundreds of years leading up to where we are now as a collective.

In her former long-standing role as the director of a Tribal Treatment Center in her hometown of Fort Belknap, Montana—and as a native woman growing up on a reservation in the 1970s—Linda experienced and witnessed the consequences of historical and generational trauma, and she’s dedicated her life to healing herself and integrating her own family’s history and helping others do the same.

This conversation is very special for us because Linda’s tribal family caretakes a Feathered Pipe, a relic that has been with their community for thousands of years and is a symbol of resilience, faith and connection. It’s actually because of this relic that she wanted to come visit the Feathered Pipe Ranch in 2021 for the concert with Navajo flutist R. Carlos Nakai. We talk about her feeling when visiting the Ranch and the belief that a place can preserve and protect particular energies just as pipes can hold centuries of prayers and energies, too.

Linda teaches us about the importance of balance, growing up in a household of natives and non-natives, democrats and republicans, Catholics and Protestants. Her whole life, she’s been in the middle, which has proven to be the superpower behind her capacity to hold many experiences and emotions at once. This ability is a necessity in today’s world and perhaps a necessity that has always existed, considering the ancient wisdom teachings of the Eastern traditions and indigenous peoples everywhere.

Without further adieu, we offer this conversation on Historical Healing. I’m Andy Vantrease, and you’re listening to the Dandelion Effect Podcast with today’s guest Linda Kinsey.

Andy Vantrease
Linda, I would love for you to start by introducing yourself, telling us who you are and how you came to discover the Feathered Pipe Ranch now that you’re living in Helena, Montana.

Linda Kinsey  04:52
My name is Linda Kinsey, and I was born at Fort Belknap Agency. I guess it’s called an agency because it was a military fort, and it’s an Indian reservation. I would say it’s about 17 miles from the Canadian border in North Central Montana. My mom is all native from the A’aninin, the Gros Ventre tribe. My dad is a cowboy, and he was all non-native. So, I always say I’m half cowboy, and I’m half Indian, a typical Montana mixture. I grew up there and lived there my whole life, and then served the tribal government, the tribal services there…I want to say 20 years in different capacities, but mainly in mental health as a treatment professional. And then probably about 10 years as a teacher, school counselor, and school administrator. I find myself in Helena, the state capital, here now for about eight years.

Andy Vantrease  05:47
Then how did you find out about the Feathered Pipe Ranch? Because I know that your first visit was this last summer, and that’s where I met you briefly. But tell me about the events that led to that and what your experience was of visiting.

Linda Kinsey  06:02
Well, I heard about the Feathered Pipe Ranch…I don’t know, I must have seen it in a brochure or something somewhere. The name kind of struck me, because I’m like, “the Feathered Pipe Ranch?” I think when I first seen it, I kind of Googled it to see, what is this all about? Because our tribe, the A’aninin (in Montana we’re called the Gros Ventre tribe—that’s our federally recognized name, but we call ourselves the A’aninin, the “White Clay People”), we have a pipe called the Feathered Pipe. It’s a relic and has been with our tribe for a very long time. We have two relics, the Flat Pipe and the Feathered Pipe. They say the Flat Pipe has been with our tribe from before the flood. The Feathered Pipe is more modern, but still ancient, thousands of years old. We keep that, and we still have a Feathered Pipe keeper. We still have traditions around that particular pipe. So, I seen that Feathered Pipe name, and I thought, “Oh my gosh.” My friend actually asked me if I wanted to go to a concert there. It was the flute player.

Andy Vantrease  07:13
Oh, yeah. R. Carlos.

Linda Kinsey  07:15
Yeah, so, we went there in late May or early June. As soon as I got out of the car, I was like…well before I even got out, it felt very spiritual to me. The whole experience there was really awesome. I think it was maybe a month later, there was a retreat advertised there for nutritional healing. I was able to attend that retreat, and the whole thing was just awesome. And that’s where I met you. I live right here in Helena, so I’m sure I’m going to be back there.

Andy Vantrease  07:47
Yeah, especially if you’re in Helena, just come up and visit. So, I wanted today to really get into hearing about your life, because you had told me that the A’aninin tribe, there’s no written language. It’s all an oral tradition. I know that story, obviously, must play a huge part in communication, understanding, generational wisdom, and learning. But Linda, if I were to just ask you, what’s the beginning of your life story? Where do things start for you? Where do you start to understand who you are as a being? What can you tell me?

Linda Kinsey  08:28
Where I’m at right now is I’m feeling really grateful because I had two parents that loved me. I was a middle child born right in the middle of two brothers. I was born in October, so I’m a Libra. Everything is in the middle for me—half Native, half non-native. Balance, I guess, has been something ever since I realized this being in the middle part. My mom was a really devout Catholic, very family active, and a Democrat. My grandfather was actually one of our longest leaders certainly in the state, but also nationwide, as a political leader for Native people. My father was a not-so-devout Protestant, and came from a very Republican family. I always felt like I was in the middle of things, peacekeeping and all that. Even through these whole difficult problems and differences, I would tell the story of how my mom was a devout Catholic, a Native American, and a Democrat. My dad was a Protestant and non-native, yet they never fought over politics. I never once heard them having disagreements over politics or race. For me, I’m really grateful to be brought up in that kind of environment where you are who you are.

Andy Vantrease  09:55
How did your parents meet?

Linda Kinsey  09:57
In a bar. There’s this place called the Y Junction, way out in the middle of nowhere. It’s probably 15 or 10 miles south of the reservation. It was a bar and kind of a gathering place. They met in 1957, and he was on a road construction crew. The bar had a campgrounds there, and the road construction crew was camped at that campgrounds. Apparently, there was a dance there, and they met. Three weeks later, they got married.

Andy Vantrease  10:37
Wow. So you had two brothers, and you were the middle? That’s actually exactly where I sit too. I have an older brother and a younger brother. And you were the only girl?

Linda Kinsey  10:48
Yep. So, I was raised on the reservation. My mom came from a family of 13 brothers and sisters, a very large family. My mom’s maternal grandmother pretty much lived with us most of the time. Our place was like a gathering place, so sometimes I felt left out because I didn’t have a sister. But for us, our first cousins are our brothers and sisters. The way we relate to each other, and my aunts to my children, are also their grandmothers. That’s sort of the way we are related to each other. I was fortunate that I did have a lot of female cousins that I was very close to, and sisters and stuff.

Andy Vantrease  11:30
Is there anything that strikes you, or anything that you have reflected on recently about some of the values and foundation of what was instilled in you from your parents? I know you mentioned that balance, but is there anything else that really carries with you until today?

Linda Kinsey  11:46
Well, they both were blue collar workers. They both instilled that work ethic and work very hard. Of course my mom made sure that we were brought up as Catholic. From about 17, I was exposed to traditional Native spirituality and religion. I didn’t know this until I started realizing the federal law, that it was pretty much illegal to practice any kind of Native spirituality. I got the normal, how we do funerals, traditional prayer and all of that, but I wasn’t exposed to real ceremonial rituals until about 17. One, because it was illegal. Although my mom said that when she was growing up, it was illegal, but her parents and grandparents would practice healing and traditions in secret because they didn’t want to get in trouble. But the law changed, and we started practicing before the law changed. The first sweat lodge on our reservation was actually at my uncle’s house. This was before cell phones, and even phones. I’m not that old, but a lot of people really didn’t have phones. I went over there to visit with him, and he was having a sweat lodge. I went in there, and that was my first one at 17. I was really struck on how it felt, and that it was intense and pretty healing. So, I’ve gone that way ever since with that, and other very serious ceremonial healing practices and prayer. Plus, I still follow Catholic traditions. I don’t know, they always say take what you can use and leave the rest. Some of it I could leave on both sides, and some of it I could really use, so I’m grateful for that.

Andy Vantrease  13:35
Were you able to take what you felt was a benefit, and then leave the rest right away? Or was there ever any conflict between those two ideologies?

Linda Kinsey  13:44
For me, there wasn’t really. They just seem to go well together. It’s all about finding strength in God, our Creator, or finding a purpose or direction. Or even going to prayer for somebody else if you’re afraid, if somebody is really sick, or they’re caught up in grief. My really hard work started with not realizing that a lot of my anger was caused from grief. I didn’t realize that, so both of those practices with Catholic theology, the sweat lodge, and what we would call the Sundance, really helped me understand that. I didn’t fully heal—I don’t know if we’re ever fully 100% healed because there’s always work to do—but mine started with understanding my grief, and how it transgressed into both anger and depression. Then I became interested in how generational grief could play along and become attached. I really wanted to detach from all of that for more balance in my life.

Andy Vantrease  14:53
I’m really curious to hear whatever you want to share about the history of your people. I’m curious if, growing up, you learned the history in a way that you feel like it was a complete story told from the side that probably isn’t told off the reservation and in many schools, which is the work that you’re into today getting that education out into the public. Anything that you want to share about the A’aninin or the Gros Ventre people?

Linda Kinsey  15:24
Well, I always knew somehow just by family talking about it that our original first treaty with the federal government on our tribe was in 1858. My grandmother was born around the early 1880s. I could just picture her at a picket fence, standing outside, and this vehicle coming by and just snatching her when she was about seven years old. She was taken…the word, what I understand now, is literally taken to boarding school. Fort Belknap, Montana is a very far distance from Chemawa, Oregon. So, she was taken to the federally run Indian boarding school in Chemawa, Oregon. I think it’s near Salem. It still exists today, actually. It always strikes me as really horrible. Here she was, she had never spoken English, she was totally Native, and they took her and many others to boarding school. So, I always knew about that. But again, balances are good and bad and balanced together.

So, World War I broke out and she was only 14, 15, 16—in her mid teens or so. The Chemawa Boarding School turned into a naval hospital because it was a seaport. They brought all the wounded into that boarding school. They picked different trainings for different students to work at that hospital, and she was trained as an Army nurse. She was an Army nurse from then until she came home at 19. I’m sure it was traumatizing. Well, I know it was. She came home to the reservation as soon as she was done with the boarding school, and had a large family after that—13 kids. She raised them as very devout Catholic. Chemawa wasn’t a Catholic boarding school, it was government, but somehow the mission started up there at the reservation. A lot of the Natives and kids were brought into the Catholic religion. So, she had all her children and brought them all up Catholic.

My mom also attended boarding school. There was a boarding school at St. Paul’s Mission on the reservation there. I realized that I’m the first one in my whole immediate family to attend public school. My dad attended public school where he was from, but my mom and grandmother didn’t. As my grandmother got older, she lived with us, and honestly, I could hear her crying at night when she was probably in her late 70’s to 80’s. She lived a long time. To me, it sounded like anguish. I didn’t know if she was in pain, so I’d go in and check on her sometimes. She wasn’t very verbal, but I don’t know why. She was very quiet. Years later, when I was helping clean out her things in her room,  I found this old purse. And there was…I don’t know how many letters from soldiers that she had been a nurse for, telling her that they were good and thanking her and stuff.

Andy Vantrease  18:35
You talk about all of the different sides of experiences. I imagine she got really close to some of those people that she helped, and yet, she was originally brought there against her will. Just the complexity of all of that.

Linda Kinsey  18:52
Yeah, and then she lived through the Spanish flu, the smallpox epidemic, as a very young child. Anytime anybody asked me who I admire the most, it would be her.

Andy Vantrease  19:07
You said she was non verbal, or didn’t speak much. Was that just later in her life, or in general a more contemplative type of person?

Linda Kinsey  19:16
She practically raised me, and she was very quiet. She didn’t speak very much and was very devout. She’d always be praying or having a rosary. I was starting to get into research when I was going to grad school and researching our tribal history, and I found out about this place called Fort Browning. I had never heard of it growing up, maybe vague mention of it. And then I seen where my grandmother was actually born in Fort Browning. My grandmother spoke fluent English because she went to that boarding school all that time, but a lot of times my mom and my grandmother would speak in our native language. I don’t know sensitive things, or things they didn’t want us to understand, but one time I asked my mom if she could ask grandma what happened at Fort Browning. How come we never talked about it and she was born there? So my mom spoke in Indian, and I could understand a lot of it, but some of it I couldn’t because it was words that were never really used around me. And I’m like, “Well, what did she say?” And she said, “Why talk about it, because everybody died there.” That was the last smallpox epidemic. She was a small baby when everybody was moved out of there, and they went south towards another location. It was something that was barely in the history books.

I think it was 2017, they had a healing ceremony for all of the hundreds of people that died there, probably about 10 miles off the reservation. Things they didn’t talk about that they didn’t want to really remember. She didn’t talk about a lot of her experience at Chemawa either. But my cousins always made her…I guess she was a cheerleader too, so they always made her do the Chemawa cheer, and she would be just happy singing the Chemawa cheer. Again, good and bad. Making the best of things.

Andy Vantrease  21:13
I’m always so struck by how much lightness and humor is an important sensibility within Native peoples and Native communities. I wonder if you have any insight into how you, or how other people, can hold that at the same time as such deep grief and fierce anger?

Linda Kinsey  21:39
I don’t really know the answer to that, but there are some certainly humorous things that I can recall and humorous adventure stories. There’s no place like home, right? Not only Native people, but I think non-native people experience that familiar, humorous story or memory, and there’s something chemically that happens with endorphins and stuff like that, that help our brain. And it’s just kind of a natural healer, I would say. Nothing like our humorous memories and stories and things.

Andy Vantrease  22:12
I’d love to hear a little bit more about the resiliency: Many people died after the government interventions and everybody moved north. That was also the time during smallpox and the Spanish flu, and all of that kind of compounding on each other. It sounds like after that first contact with European settlers, the population went from 200,000 or 300,000, to just 300 people one hundred years later, in that 1910 first census. Being able to survive that and continue on as a community and continue on as human beings into where you are today…

Linda Kinsey  22:59
First thing that pops into my mind is the creator, God, the spiritual aspect of things. When you were talking, I was remembering my grandmother. When she came back from Chemawa, most of her family had died. Her immediate family in that span of 12 years that she was gone, from age seven to 19. Actually, weirdly enough, the road construction that my dad came to our area to do, cut through a cemetery. The first time I remember that I took my grandmother there, it was a lot of her family that was laid on the rocks there from the smallpox epidemic, and tuberculosis. I remember seeing her just walking out past the graves and just walking. And that mournful cry, she was just crying. I had this sense to just let her go, just let her walk and cry because she wanted to be alone. I would say her grief and devoutness as a Catholic was part of the resilience, or the healing, or the balance between the Serenity Prayer, I guess is what comes to mind. But there’s been a lot of tragedies still there today that carries on. And there’s been a lot of suicides, sometimes reaching the top numbers in the whole United States in our area, especially among young men. There’s still that, whatever it is, the residual effects of trauma and poverty.

Also, I was stunned to find out, when I used to do other research and write grants, that where I lived in Blaine County, Montana was the most impoverished community per capita in the whole United States. I was really stunned to find that out. Fast forward to now at our spiritual ceremonies that we have…we have three major ones sometimes. Sometimes two, sometimes only one in the summertime. And it attracts so many Natives from all over the place, especially our own people. We have that very profound spiritual understanding and gifts and practices, and a lot of it is centered around that Feathered Pipe. That Feathered Pipe has been with our people throughout all of those tragedies—the coming over here, the movement, the epidemics, the poverty, the loss of language, the loss of traditions and spiritual practices. But that’s been with us, and so I still have that strong sense that there’s something to that.

Andy Vantrease  25:37
Can you explain a bit what a pipe represents for some of the listeners that are non-native, that maybe have not heard of what this is? It’s a relic, but you just explained it as something that is one of the reasons that people have been able to carry on. Is there anything that you want to share, or can share about what a pipe is, what it represents, and then anything about the Feathered Pipe itself?

Linda Kinsey  26:11
It’s part of what we would call a creation story. We have two creation stories, and this one is surrounding the Feathered Pipe and how it came to be with our people. In the sense of that particular relic, or the Feathered Pipe, it’s really supernatural…faith in history and understanding of supernatural events. That whole story came to us from a dream that a young boy had. It was through a dream and instructions through what we would call grandfathers, or guardian angels. Our ancestors who are no longer with us gave him instructions on that pipe—on how to use it, what it meant, and how to pray with it. With what we would call pipes nowadays, if you want to talk about ceremonial pipes, there’s pipes that probably look like Native American pipes and are objects just for show. People don’t use them. But there’s truly other pipes that are really regarded as very sacred to that keeper, or to that family or tribe, that are used. It’s not really the pipe itself…the tangible item, like the stem in the bowl is usually made from pipestone, or some kind of hard rock, but it’s the medicine that you put into the pipe to use for smoking or sharing.

A lot of times we hear about stories on peacekeeping. I guess in English we would call it a “peace pipe,” that was used in the treaty days. The Indians would sit down and have a pipe ceremony. That tobacco is what we would use as that herb in that pipe, along with a mixture of other medicines they’d want to use. It’s what we would call our chief medicine. It’s really ironic because modern day tobacco is very toxic and very harmful. Smoking is not recommended for your good health. But the tobacco leaf and plant itself is for a lot of Native Plains tribes what we would refer to as our chief medicine. And it’s a communicator when used, and prayed with, and thought of with intention on that herb. It’s used as a communicator. Its chief purpose would be to communicate to the Creator, or to communicate to the Earth, the Mother. When we pick plants, it’s really protocol to lay down some of that tobacco and thank our Mother for granting us that medicine and guiding us on how to use it.

Each individual has their own ways of how they smoke or use the pipe, which we would call pipe directions. A lot of people would say that somebody instructed them, or some people would say they got their pipe directions from a human. The way I understand it, and this is just my experience and also that of our tribe, is those pipe directions come from spiritual beings. Really no human can give them to you. Energies, somewhere else, or angels…It’s kind of hard to understand, but it’s all individual too. I would not want to tell anybody how to use a pipe or what the directions are. I do have one for my own personal use and have my own directions that were given to me in ceremony. Each individual person probably, if they have one, have received it in different ways.

Andy Vantrease  29:49
It also seems like with the pipe and with some of these other tangible objects that are used in ceremony in a lot of different traditions…if I think of Catholicism, I think of the wine and the body and blood of Christ. It’s just these parts of rituals and ceremony that we use to connect further with the energies that we’re trying to connect with. It’s similar to maybe even what you felt when you stepped on the Feathered Pipe Ranch, where a place can hold the energy of all of the people and the prayers that have been there before you. And a pipe seems to kind of do a similar thing, where it’s been prayed into so many times, and it’s been kept by particular people.

Linda Kinsey  30:42
Yeah, I think energy would be the word to describe pipes. I was just thinking about rocks. In the sweat lodge, we use rocks…Pretty much our rocks at home are the favored ones for a lot of people—not only me, but because they’re really nice rocks. Many, many sweat lodges I’ve been in I was told that those grandfather stones are the oldest living beings in the world. And so all that energy that goes into that sweat lodge, pouring the steam on the stones, and that healing that comes from there. It’s the same thing with these pipes, especially these older ones, all of that energy and that faith. I guess you could even say that with our old pipe, our Feathered Pipe. We have another pipe that’s much older, the Flat Pipe, and I’ve prayed with and been around both of them. There’s just this feeling, or this power. It must be all of those prayers from thousands of years, or all the things that that tool has carried. But it’s not like, in a sense, an idol. It represents history and resilience, and maybe it holds memory. I don’t really know.

Andy Vantrease  31:54
Research now is starting to understand this idea of generational trauma and generational healing, and the ways that those feelings, emotions, and experiences stay in our bodies and carry on into the bodies of the people that we create. Just wonder how much of that happens in nonhuman beings as well? I know that there’s research out now about water and plants having memory. If you really look through this lens, it’s a much more expansive, non egocentric way of understanding the world as much more alive than we typically consider it in non-native, mainstream society.

I am curious about how you got into the mental health work that you do today. It sounds like there were a couple things happening in your personal life, and starting to understand this idea of generational trauma, that just converged together. And it seems shortly after, maybe a couple years after, you were introduced to your Indigenous traditions and much more of a traditional healing path?

Linda Kinsey  33:16
Well, my educational and professional path… some with intention, and some not. In 1980—that tells me how old I am—was my first professional job as a teacher. I taught fifth grade students, and our school in Harlem was three miles off the reservation, and probably at that time about low 80s to high 90s percent Native students. And honestly, I don’t think there was any Native teachers there at all before. I was pretty glad to be there, but kind of felt out of place with the other adults. I could see the kids really needing more exposure to Native teachers.

Oddly enough, I went to college and got my bachelor’s degree in business. I was like, “What on Earth am I doing with a bachelor’s degree in business?” Anyway, I worked for the tribe for quite a few years, but where I was placed was a treatment center. I was the business person for an inpatient regional treatment center. I did their business stuff and their data entry and contracts. But I was right there, and the individuals that were in treatment came from all over, and I really got my eyes open. I had never really realized how profoundly alcohol…it was mainly alcoholism back then in the 90’s. There was people that died in that treatment facility from alcohol related diseases and I was right there. I guess I was supposed to see that. I also was exposed to recovery, and I had never heard of things like the 12 Steps. They had steps going up to the inpatient unit where the individual slept, and it had the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous on there. I seen that every day, and I was like, yeah, I think I was supposed to see this. I was exposed to it very intense. I just wanted a job and to be able to use my degree, and it wasn’t my intention to work in a treatment center. But I always feel like hindsight is 2020. Maybe as Catholics we grew up to believe that our vocation…we’re here to serve, and we’re at peace when we know that. And we’re happy when we know that we’re in the right service. I was thinking, “Jeez, I must be meant to be here to learn about all this stuff.”

Then I went back to school, and was studying my masters in counseling and educational counseling. Who struck me was Carl Jung, so I studied him. I had to do a second year of my master’s program, studying Carl Jung, and some of these modalities and things associated with that, and how we bring them into modern therapies. I was struck by how he was really intrigued by Indigenous people. He came to the United States, because he was originally from Sweden, and I don’t want to say what tribe because I might get it wrong, but he did study with a certain tribe here in the United States. He was very intrigued by their methods and practices. I don’t know when it was where he started using the word “genetic memory.” I think he might have been one of the first to use that word. And that word struck me, genetic memory. It started making me think, “Oh my gosh, my grandmother had some pretty traumatic things, let alone her grandmother.” And I’m like, “I wonder if that’s affecting me?”

So, in the late 90s or early 2000s, we started hearing a lot about historic shame, generational shame, and trauma. And then, of course today in 2022, they formed a word around that called epigenetics. That was the biggest thing (from what I understood) that separated Carl Jung from some of the other practitioners at the time, like Freud. Carl Jung believed that trauma affected the genetic strand, it affected our DNA, and Freud didn’t. But today, they’re finding out that trauma does affect our DNA. I’m not really into the scientific part of that, but from a licensed school guidance counselor, I then became a licensed addictions counselor. Seeing many people in clinic, I believe that to be true. So, I would guide them into finding out who they were through their history.

Through my own work and my own healing, I was finding out where I came from, and some of the trauma and things to help that. I was very, very grateful and honored to be working with individuals that were indeed traumatized, and showing it through alcohol and drugs, addiction and also mental health issues. I did that for quite a few years until the job that brought me here to Helena. I was managing some of the programs that served statewide people, and I didn’t see any natives or tribal people at the table. That’s when I came here and started doing some other work in the area of addictions and historic trauma, and educating people on the Plains Indian story. A lot of people here sitting at high tables—very powerful decision makers—had no idea of the trauma that some of our Native families had suffered through, and it seemed like they needed to be educated about that.

Andy Vantrease  38:43
When you were going back through your family history and recounting your own healing and recovery, finding out who you were, was there a piece of that as mom being Native and dad being non-native with those two separate histories? Or were you looking more into your Indigenous history and viewing the healing from that lens?

Linda Kinsey  39:10
Mainly Indigenous. I wasn’t exposed too much to my dad’s family. Either way, I was proud to be from both. My dad’s family had a background of being immigrants from Norway and Sweden. I guess maybe that’s why I was attracted to Carl Jung because he was from Sweden. So, I found them to be really interesting, but I didn’t know much about any of their history really at all. They were very rural people. Very cowboy. I was proud of that, and I was wishing I could be exposed to more of that, but I just wasn’t. So, I didn’t really get to know my dad’s family the way I would have liked to, but some of that I get interested in. I mean, my younger brother, I used to tease him and tell him I think he was related to Eric the Red because he looked like Eric the Red. I was always intrigued by Vikings because my grandfather came from Norway. I’ve always wanted to go explore over there or something like that. I’m sure they had trauma too. I think every peoples do, and their history is probably much older.

Andy Vantrease  40:24
What were some of the tools and practices and avenues that you used in that healing process of your own? I know that the sweat lodge was a huge part of your healing, and you had told me that even though you were studying Western methods of therapy and counseling, when it came to your own reconciliation, you took much more of the traditional Indigenous practices.

Linda Kinsey  40:51
Mainly that, but like I said, I was brought to it without even planning it. I ended up working at a treatment center, so when I seen those 12 Steps, I was really interested in them. I kind of studied them and researched where they came from, and a lot of it had a spiritual base. Well, a Catholic priest was part of developing those. The teachings through the 12 Steps, and through listening and watching people engage in their own recovery through the 12 Steps, I guess that helped me to be cautionary about getting into addiction. It helped my boundaries with that—understanding and listening to others that were really, really seriously affected by their addictions and their choices.

Then on the mental health side, for me, I hadn’t thought I had depression or anything like that, but I had four children, and it was after my last son that I was finding out about depression. It was postpartum depression that I did experience, and it was really, really bad. I was just getting into interning for my counseling degree, and the therapist that I was interning with—right away, the first visit without even a full assessment or looking at my history (I was 30)—wanted to give me medication. I didn’t feel good about it. I said that I needed to go home and talk to my family about it. I talked to my mother about it because she had a lot of experience in different medications and things like that. She recommended that I maybe try something else. I think she was kind of scared for me, so she really didn’t want to give me an opinion because she really wasn’t a professional at that time.

Coincidentally, they had a sweat lodge behind my house where I lived, and my uncle, and some cousins and different ones, were actually in the middle of a sweat lodge when I was having this crisis. I went and sat there, and I told them what was going on, and that I really needed help. So, that’s the way it went, fortunately. I just can’t believe how some of the things showed up for my greatest need when I needed it. They were there, you know. It was right behind my house. My brother had put up a sweat lodge back there. He was a Vietnam veteran, and he asked me if he could use that space behind my house for a sweat lodge. And I said yes, so that’s how I really got into it. Because it was, what, 10 steps from my back door. That’s where I really, really experienced like a cleansing because I felt really toxic when I was depressed. It was just really a bad phase of my life.

Sometimes I wonder if people have to go through that, kind of going through the darkness to see the light or being at the bottom to be able to climb to the top. I don’t know if I’d have as much gratitude as I have today if I didn’t experience when I wasn’t grateful. If I didn’t know what to be grateful for—specific things like my mental health and my recovery, even sobriety. It really helped me understand how to be grateful. The sweat lodge itself, the theme, the prayers, everything about it. The energy from our oldest energy beings on Earth helped me really to get some of that toxic stuff out—even possibly that genetic trauma, that historic trauma. So, I really fully believe in that. But in my clinical work, I didn’t push it on anybody and never really told my own personal story, but I had offerings like there’s this and there’s this and then maybe guidance on who to ask or how to even be in a sweat lodge. But never pushed anybody into like, “You have to do this.” It’s just how my healing path went.

Andy Vantrease  44:50
And wasn’t your uncle the keeper of the Feathered Pipe at this point?

Linda Kinsey  44:55
No, it was another older gentleman or spiritual leader. He passed away five or six years ago. Now, it’s  passed on to…I would call him my brother, but he’s my cousin. That’s who has it right now. Yeah, he keeps it now.

Andy Vantrease  45:08
Okay. You know, this idea of historical healing, I want to spend some time there. When I hear that word, I hear a couple of different things: I hear historical healing among groups of people, and I also think about the ways that an individual healing oneself is historical healing because you’re stopping that cycle of trauma. I’m curious of how you see your own healing, as we each individually take the responsibility to care for ourselves and to transmute and alchemize the things that have happened before us as they exist within our own bodies. How does that relate to the bigger picture of historical healing?

Linda Kinsey  46:05
Originally, I would always hear that word historic trauma, right? Historic trauma. And then I got to the point where I was like, historic trauma has got to have an opposite to it. There can’t be just the trauma—again, back to that balance. I used to do a lot of not only clinical groups within our treatments that are for our patients, but also kind of like mini workshops on our tribal history, and it transitioned into motivating people to find out their own history. Then I was like, “Why don’t we also use that word with historic healing?” Because while a lot of our history has trauma to it, doesn’t a lot of our history also have healing to it? Being in a position of, I guess you would call it a leader, in a treatment center (because I eventually became the director of that treatment center), was a huge responsibility! Keeping motivated for my own work, teaching counselors how to be counselors and also supervising them, you can’t give what you don’t have to give.

It’s kind of like what they teach you in motivational interviewing: being with, being present. You really can’t be present when you’re engaged in your own stuff, mainly your history stuff. So, just all of that motivation was really something for me to be able to be part of. Again, it was like gratitude: “Oh my gosh, I could be placed in so many other different environments.” But you’re meant to be where you’re meant to be. Bloom, where you’re planted, you know. Some days get really hard. And we did see some suicide completions at our facility with our patients, losing some patients due to overdosing actually. That grief, we shared that grief, because it was not only me, it was a large staff that’s there. They’re still there, I think a staff of about 23 people. And I had the honor to be the leader of that staff for many years.

Then bringing it back to my family. For many years, I was a single parent of four kids. I’ll tell you what: In early recovery, before I found out all this stuff, and I was so stressed out getting them to school, being a single parent—I had a lot of help from my family, most notably my mother—but I realized that I was really gonna have to float through these feelings so I can get to the other side of what’s causing my anxiety. A lot of being a single parent alone without historic trauma causes anxiety, but with all boys, I remember I would come home from work, from a stressful job, and my house would be full of boys and a loud TV. Not only my boys, but their friends. It was Grand Central Station at my house, and I would come home, and I knew what triggered my anxiety. And sometimes I’d have to go into my bathroom before I started hollering and acting out with my kids in a way that I didn’t want to do. I’d go into my little bathroom, shut off the light, and just sit there and breathe. Before even knowing that breathwork was very, very beneficial for calming me down. I learned what my triggers were, so I taught my kids boundaries. I said, “Listen, this is what I have.” And I didn’t take medication for that either.

You know, I still can’t have loud noises; it just sets me off. I can have chaos but not like 15 kids hollering in my house, playing football or whatever they were doing. So that healing work or that trauma work, I want to say that it helped my kids, you know, to be having a halfway sane mom that has boundaries, does not use alcohol or drugs, and role modeled what little I could in my crazy times bringing up my kids. Fast forward to right now, present day 2022, I’m raising a granddaughter. She did experience some trauma, and I’ve never raised a daughter. She was having drama that I didn’t… I was going to choose not to raise her because it was triggering my trauma, so we stumbled onto these books, Llama Llama Red Pajama, and it’s about not having drama. So, that’s our cue for today. It’s like, “Okay, no drama. We’re gonna have to breathe.” So, it’s all of that that I’m hoping will change the course from where it might have led if I didn’t get exposed to all of these jobs for one, and this understanding for two. It makes a difference as far as what you choose to do and how you choose to move forward with your family.

Andy Vantrease  51:00
What about the work that you’re doing today? How are you working on education and historical healing and just helping other people to see and find out more about who they are, so they can integrate all of those parts and really even go searching for where that drama and trauma is coming from?

Linda Kinsey  51:22
Today, right now, I don’t work clinically with anybody. I’m not licensed anymore, since 2015. It’s more education, like, prevention education. It’s being the director of a suicide prevention grant at the Urban Indian Center here in Helena. It’s really hard because our target population are Native youth, ages 12 to 24. And there doesn’t seem to be a robust effort on the part of the school district here to help Native youth engage in cultural understanding. Some of the schools in our state—like Missoula and Great Falls—have what they would call “a gathering place for students” and they facilitate, but we don’t have that at all in Helena. To us, if using what I would call positive talk or without blaming or accusing, I want to mitigate that. So, that’s my work right now. How in Helena can we, the school district, the leadership and the students and parents, be motivated to engage in understanding who they are and where they came from, as far as the Indigenous students here? How can we help motivate by providing education on wellness and suicide prevention methods and coping skills? My goal is to really, really help students and maybe families understand where they came from. So, it would really be good. COVID and the pandemic has really impacted the work. I started… it’d be almost two years now on October 1, right in the thick of the pandemic. So, I work from home, and you could do a lot of virtual education and a lot of virtual activities and things, but it’s really beneficial to be in-person. We’re leaning towards in-person things right now. Hopefully, we’ll have some in-person activities and gatherings then just be present with them and kind of build trust and be a resource for the youth here in Helena.

At Fort Harrison, the VA Center here in town, our facility (the Helena Indian Alliance) sponsors traditional healing there. Sweat lodge and talking circles, and they’re not able to do that. I’m thinking there are still restrictions on that, so it’s been really tough to engage in healing—that kind of healing, traditional healing and the sweat lodge and things. There’s people at home and other places that still do like family sweats and are keeping individual practices, maybe small family practices. I try to still do that, even though we can’t publicly have a gathering just yet, so…

Andy Vantrease  54:09
Yeah. The tagline of our podcast is “the magic of living a connected life.” And I just want to ask you, when you hear that phrase, what does it mean to you? How do you live a connected life?

Linda Kinsey  54:22
Well, as soon as you said that, I’m like, “Ooooooh!” Connected life—that’s really profound. Connected life. Me, myself, I guess my little story, it connects me to my past, especially my grandmother. I kind of get emotional like when I was talking about her because she’s my hero. Also my grandfather, I didn’t talk very much of him, but I’m connected to the past because my mom used to always pray in our language, and I asked her what her words meant and stuff. She said, “Well, I just pray like how my father used to pray.” Her father didn’t know a word of English. And I’d say, “Well, what was it that his prayer sounded like?” And she told me, “He prayed for you before you were even born. He would start praying using the directions in the East. And he would pray for his grandchildren, his great grandchildren in the future generations, and then go around in a circle of the four directions.”

So, that’s what I do. I pray for my grandchildren that aren’t even born. That’s connectedness, I would say. And I just really want to say how proud I am of my oldest son who is a tribal leader and serves on our own tribal council at home as one of the tribal officials and then statewide, he leads the tribes and has been the Health Committee Chair for the tribe—all the tribes—and he’s on his fourth or fifth term now. When he was inaugurated, my mother passed away about three and a half years ago, and she was able to do that prayer for the inauguration. She told the group, and she told my son, she said, “Your grandfathers prayed for you before you were even born. They prayed, and so honor that… honor that.” That’s connectedness. So, hard times, good times, whatever times, you know, when I pray, I still ask my grandfathers and grandmothers for help, for guidance. And I just hope and pray that my granddaughter can be taught those same things.

Andy Vantrease  56:33
Linda Kinsey. Speaking with Linda was such a gift, the kind of connection that goes straight to the heart without needing much time, and I feel so grateful to have been able to hear stories straight from the source that are paramount to our understanding of the people in Montana but also our country as a whole.

Until I moved out West, I didn’t know anything about Native American culture and ways of life, which I find strange, given that I have Cherokee people in my ancestry from areas that are now modern day Virginia and West Virginia. Now I understand that any stories and traditions I may have learned were far removed even after just a few generations with the help of boarding schools, broken treaties, land development and intentional erasure.

I appreciated Linda’s outlook on her own identity as being the convergence of several different ideologies, faiths and peoples, and I was inspired by her openness to explore and claim all parts. The way I view humans is that all of us are creations of diversity, if not racially and culturally than certainly ideologically, neurologically, emotionally, physically. We’re built by our circumstances and how we choose to react to them, as well as by our pasts and what we were born into and given to work with.

If you’d like to learn more about Linda’s work, visit HIA-MT.org. If you enjoyed this episode, you may also enjoy listening to Episode #9: Cho Cho Lwin: A Woman’s Journey to Love & Liberation.

A special thank you to Matthew Marsolek and the Drum Brothers, whose music you hear at the beginning and end of this podcast, as well as Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, who first turned us on to the phenomenon of the Dandelion Effect and how ideas move through the world.

This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, a 501c3 dedicated to healing, education, community and empowerment. If you’d like to help support this project, please visit FeatheredPipe.com/gratitude or leave a review on Apple podcasts and share with your friends. Be sure to tune in to our next episode in two weeks. We cannot wait to share another amazing conversation with you. Until then, have a beautiful day!