Understanding ACEs Helps Band Members Break the Cycle of Trauma


The acronym "ACEs" has been heard around the reservation for several years, and more so recently as training in Adverse Childhood Experiences has been offered to Band members and employees by Susan Beaulieu of the University of Minnesota Extension Office.

Susan, a Red Lake Band member who lives in Brainerd, was one of the first Anishinaabe to recognize that understanding ACEs could help people heal by making a connection between their own lives and the trauma experienced by their parents, grandparents, and ancestors.

"When I first heard about ACEs, I had already learned about historical trauma," said Susan. "ACEs made a connection be- tween historical trauma and what we are seeing in our communities today: why we have the cycles we have, what those cycles are, and what strategies we can use to break those cycles and get back to thriving instead of just surviving."

For Susan, it was also part of a personal journey of self-un- derstanding and growth. "Learning about ACEs helped me to understand that the things I've experienced weren't my fault, weren't my parents' fault, or my grandparents' fault, and it also helped me understand that I can break that cycle."

As a young mother, Susan had learned good parenting tools and skills, but there was still something missing: the healing that was necessary because of the damage caused by traumatic experiences in childhood and the impacts of historical trauma carried out through epigenetics. "Tools are helpful, but they don't get us where we need and want to be. I had to do my own inner work and healing work, and learning about ACEs was part of that."

After learning about the powerful impact of childhood trauma, Susan felt a strong desire to get the information about ACEs out to tribal communities, so she went through training to become an ACE Interface trainer, and later a master trainer.

Susan Beaulieu of the University of Minnesota Extension shared information about ACEs and other topics at health fairs in September. The headband she's wearing is a device used to assist in meditation — which has been shown to help those who experienced adverse childhood experiences.

In January of this year, she took a position with the U of M that allowed her to continue to bring ACEs training to Mille Lacs and to begin bringing the information to the Bois Forte Reservation.

What Are ACEs?

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are significant childhood traumas that can result in changes in brain development. These brain adaptations may affect learning ability and social skills, and can result in long-term health problems.

Adverse Childhood Experiences are common and include household dysfunction (substance abuse, parental separation/ divorce, mental illness, battered mothers, criminal behavior), neglect (emotional and physical), and abuse (emotional, physical, and sexual).

The more ACEs in a person’s childhood, the more likely they are to suffer from a range of problems — not just emotional and psychological, but physical as well: alcoholism and alcohol abuse, chronic obstructive lung disease, coronary heart disease, depression, drug abuse and illicit drug use, fetal death, intimate partner violence, liver disease, mental health problems, obesity, sexual behavior problems, smoking, unintended pregnancy, violence, and workplace problems.

The impact of ACEs was established by a long-term scientific study — the ACE Study — that proved the impact that Adverse Childhood Experiences have on a person’s life. Over 17,000 individuals participated in the study, which was a partnership between Kaiser Permanente in San Diego and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Moving Beyond ACEs

Adverse Childhood Experiences do not determine a person’s life course. Resiliency and healing can counteract the effects of ACEs. Building resiliency as individuals, in relationships, and in communities is possible. Small changes can start a person down a better path:

– Living mindfully reduces stress, increases focus, and improves relationships (to name a few benefits);
– Eating healthy foods is critical for brain development and function, and improving mood;
– Benefit from a 10 percent increase in long-term happi- ness by writing down three good things that have happened to you and your role in them before you go to bed;
– Being physically active may be the single most effective way to enhance brain performance, boost mood, and improve overall well being;
– Setting mini goals will keep you motivated;
– Seven to nine hours of sleep a night maximizes brain
function, physical performance, and will power;
– Taking time for visioning and self-reflection each day can help remove inner road-blocks and develop personal inner growth.

To participate in ACEs training, contact Susan at 218-330-4857 or beau0181@umn.edu.