From the Editor's Desk: Health and wellness in one another


alfredwalkingbull-web.jpgWhether we like it or not, addiction

continues to be a theme in the Native American experience. Either by

stereotyping of the “drunken Indian” or the daily struggles we

endure, it has come to define our lives, sometimes for the good and

sometimes for the bad.

We may have personal stories of our

misadventures with alcohol and drugs or we may know a seemingly

endless litany of relatives and friends who were claimed by their

addictions through death or incarceration. It’s easy to fall into the

trap of victimization, to blame a substance or colonization for the

effects, there are plenty of reasons to be angry and self-righteous.

However, the difficult path, always less trodden, is to look at our

problems holistically, traditionally and with a measure of compassion

for everyone in our lives affected by their addiction.

There is a popular meme on social

media, “A sober Indian is a powerful Indian.” It is meant to

empower those who have lived their lives, thus far, substance-free or

those in recovery. What has always struck hollow for me about it is

that, traditionally, we acknowledged our powerlessness. In Lakota

culture, we understand that power is derived from the great mystery,

the great power or god. We humble ourselves in front of god as

atonement and encouragement. The ideal to strive for is the concept

of the common man, never too high in status, never too important for


Other people are who we are called to

live our lives for, in service and gratitude for the relationship. We

are compelled to uplift one another so that we all may achieve a

sense of unity and joy, in order to share it with others.

In his speech before a group of

Minneapolis American Indian community members, Gerald Cross,

explained what was the initial cause of his addiction: loneliness and

a lack of belonging. “What got me going is that I didn’t have no

love, my parents’ addiction to alcohol and we were in foster homes.

We had decent [foster] parents who were white but we knew we were

different and they made us feel different. So we ran away and stayed

with people who accepted us.”

He continued his addiction as a

solution to feeling outcast. “We didn’t have any spirituality, we

were empty inside. The drugs made us feel better. I didn’t care about

nothing.” With time and recovery, Cross has been able to put

together sobriety. But it’s never easy and the commitment to it is

often misunderstood that once one is sober, one will always be sober.

The problem with that mindset is that

should one in recovery ever relapse, it becomes a moral or spiritual

failing of the individual and the common reaction is to shun and

ostracize, rather than uplift once again. The solution is to throw an

addict back into the pit of the problem. While that may be required

in extensive cases as a means of survival and mental well-being, it

lacks a sense of compassion and unity. The problem for most addicts

is not the substance, but with how to deal with life on life’s terms.

What the women of the Kwe Pack have

found is a solution in spiritual healing that sustains them in their

struggles of daily living. For them, embracing a healthy life in

running is what bonds them together in unity.

“We have a feeling of belonging to

something bigger than ourselves. We are in a safe and very positive

place … We carry our Indigenous identity proudly. It’s refreshing

to be a part of a group where other Native women actually build one

another up,” Chally Topping-Thompson said.

When things become rough going, they

know they can rely on each other, for the good of themselves, their

children and their people. Sarah Agaton Howes describes her

experience thusly, “I feel connected to our ancestors. I feel them

when we’re out there on those trails; the same trails they hunted,

gathered, traveled, portaged and lived in.”

So when approaching how best to live

in health, wellness and recovery, the resounding answer seems to be

that positive connection is what drives our health. While challenges,

fears and anger come into our lives almost daily, it’s important to

remember that we are a part of something greater than ourselves that

gives us strength but also sustains us.

Regardless of tribal affiliation, as

Native people, we have known this power throughout our histories.

This power of unity with the great mystery and one another is what

has seen us through the cultural and generational trauma that still

manifests itself today.

Coming together in common cause,

whether it be celebration or sadness, is something we’ve always known

to be effective at carrying on with our lives in good and positive

ways. As Native people, we should always remember that.