Lateral Violence: What it is and why it is important to know

By: Dark Rabbit

What is lateral violence and why is it important to know?

The history

Historical trauma is the collective experience of trauma that our Native ancestors experienced during time of colonization and assimilation. Intergenerational trauma comes from historical trauma but more specific to traumas past down from generation to generation through family systems. Historical and intergeneration trauma are very broad topics that would take many series of articles to write to break it down in general terms however each tribe has their own specific traumas. Lateral violence stems from historical and intergenerational trauma and is experienced throughout all of “Indian Country” meaning all tribal communities across the Americas.
What is lateral violence? Well here is the definition…


“Lateral violence occurs when oppressed groups or individuals internalize feelings such as anger and rage, and manifest them through other behaviors, such as gossip, jealousy, putdowns and blame. It’s behaviors that we do to each other collectively as part of an oppressed group, within our families, within our organizations and within our communities”


Native people are collective people who functioned more cohesively as a tribe by working together, sharing, and depending on each other. During forced colonization and assimilation, the “Indian agents” (oppressor) noticed this about the Native people. In order to break collective power among tribes the “Indian agents” (oppressor) would purposely hand out limited rations so not all of the Native people in line would get any rations to create jealousy, anger, competition and divide. This tactic used succeeded in creating many toxic behaviors passed down from generation to generation known today as lateral violence. We learned how to oppress our own people. We have become our own worst enemy because of lateral violence. The behaviors associated to lateral violence are becoming “normalized” because they have been handed down from generation to generation. It is time to break the cycle.

Why is it important to know?

All Native people at some point in their lives have been both a perpetrator and victim to lateral violence. Sadly, lateral violence is a growing concern among Native people and tribal communities; however, there is not enough open discussion on it. The research on this topic alone is limited. There is not a lot of articles written towards the general Native American population to help create awareness on this topic. Articles on historical and intergenerational trauma have mentioned and discussed lateral violence. Majority of the articles are scholarly peer reviewed journals, which are articles one would find if doing research on the topic.

There were a few journal articles written by writers from popular “native based publications” however written from a bias view that contributed to a “victim mentality”. A “victim mentality” that almost excused the behaviors of lateral violence just to lay blame on the oppressor. The oppressor has a part in the behaviors however, that does not excuse the behavior of the Native person(s) participating in the act of lateral violence towards another Native person(s).

Lateral violence experienced quite often in the work place especially in tribal departments. There will be instances of gossiping, bullying, harassment, intimidation, exclusion and even physical violence. Most often, the behavior will be “normalized” and not really addressed. Why? Because people are afraid of retaliation. Other ways negativity can happen is deflection, manipulation and ostracism, when people do decide to address the issue with their higher ups that are also Native persons.

With new age and technology, we have seen it more openly displayed on social media platforms. Social media is the breeding ground for toxic gossip, bullying, jealousy, blaming, shaming and putdowns that result out of anger and frustration towards our own people. It is so easy to jump on any social media platform and engage in lateral violence towards our own people via a post, comments, memes etc. If a Native American openly expresses their opposing view that does not fit the majority of the Native Americans then our own people are the first to jump on the social media post just to comment with either name calling, bashing, putdowns, shaming, and bullying. Many times Native Americans will experience more lateral violence via social media than they will experience racism.

Lateral violence is what helps keep the Native people divided while normalizing dysfunctional behaviors. Each tribal community needs to admit that lateral violence exist in their community. A start would be to bring awareness and education through trainings, open conversations, workshops, discussion forums, talking circles, meetings etc. When Native people become aware of what exactly is lateral violence then change can happen. If Native people would speak up and hold each other accountable on this behavior then the message would be heard and powerful coming from another Native person(s). This will help to break a cycle of toxic behaviors created from historical and intergenerational traumas. It will help in re-creating that collective power like our ancestors once held, by working together on healing and resiliency for present and future generations.

–Naomi Clifford

















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