From the Editor's Desk: Health and wellness in one another
Friday, June 05 2015
Written by Alfred Walking Bull, The Circle Managing Editor,
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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 others.

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.

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