Can the pain our ancestors lived through be inherited? Some researchers say yes. The growing study of epigenetics has found that the experiences of those who went before, such as trauma, can leave a mark on your genes. 

The phenomenon was first studied by scientists who discovered that children who were exposed to the Dutch Hunger Winter of 1944 - 1945 later showed differences in health to the general population, including higher than average body mass. Since then, it has been widely studied in the descendants of Aboriginal groups in Australia and in First Nations Tribes in Canada who have experienced years of colonisation, upheaval and trauma.

Common symptoms include poor health, fear and anxiety, substance abuse, violence and suicide. There are critics, though, who say the science is not solid and that the evidence is anecdotal, at best. But, as the debate continues, a movement is developing focused on healing intergenerational traumas and breaking the cycle.

In the second programme of our series on colonialism, we’ll look at  the study of epigenetics, the debate around it and how - or whether – generational healing is possible for colonised populations.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with: 

Catherine Chamberlain, @DrCChamberlain
Principal Investigator, Healing the Past by Nurturing the Future

Dr. Kevin Mitchell, @WiringTheBrain
Associate Prof in Developmental Neuroscience & Genetics, Trinity College Dublin

LeManuel “Lee” Bitsoi
Diversity Equity and Inclusion Consultant

Read more:
Can we really inherit trauma? The New York Times
Indigenous suicide shows our traumatic past is just too heavy a burden - The Guardian 

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