Wellbriety Cycles: Cycle of Life

( – promoted by navajo)

Like people throughout the world, traditional Native American cultures recognized and celebrated the changes that people experience as they age. Human infants are often greeted with certain celebrations, ceremonies and rituals in the minutes, days, or months following birth. As the infant grows into childhood and then into adulthood and then into old-age, each of these transitions may be marked by more celebrations, rituals, and ceremonies. And finally, there comes death.  

Wellbriety Background:

Wellbriety is a concept which grew out of attempts to bring sobriety to American Indian alcoholics and drug addicts. In order to bring about long-term sobriety, long-term changes in addictive behaviors, the entire community needs to embrace wellness-to obtain wellbriety. Wellbriety is a community approach which incorporates traditional Native American world views.

Wellbriety views the Medicine Wheel as a circle of teaching that explains that anything growing is a system of circles and cycles.

One of these is the cycle of seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Another is the cycle of life: baby, youth, adult, elder. On a personal level, the four directions of human growth are emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual.

The Cycle of Life:

As with the cycle of the seasons, traditional cultures recognize and celebrate lifecycles with ceremonies.

Many Native American cultures have ceremonies which mark the arrival of a new baby. Among the Chiricahua Apache, the Cradle Ceremony is conducted four days after birth. The significance of this brief rite is to spare the child from evil influences so that it would occupy the cradle in the future. The ceremony involves marking the child with pollen, presenting the cradleboard to the four directions, and then placing the child in the cradleboard.

In English, the word “infant” means “unable to speak” in Latin [in (not) + fari (speak)]. In many American Indian cultures, a child is considered to be human when it can speak. This marks the transition from baby to youth. In many Indian cultures, this transition is marked with a naming ceremony in which the child, now considered fully human, is given a new name, one which reflects the child’s human characteristics.

In many American Indian cultures, there would be a ceremony to mark the transition from youth to adult. In some of the cultures, particularly on the Great Plains and in the Columbia Plateau region, this would include a formal vision quest in which the youth would obtain a spiritual mentor, or tutelary spirit.

Among the Ojibwa, children would start fasting for visions at age four or five. At first they would go into the woods and spend a day without food or water while waiting for their visions. Later, they would spend four or more days at time fasting and waiting for their visions to come to them. Both boys and girls sought visions.

For the first vision quest among Ojibwa children, the face and arms are blackened with ash and then the child is taken to the Place of Visions. This is usually a location which is felt to be unnatural, a place formed by neither humans nor nature. On the occasion of the vision quest the spirits would welcome human visitors to this place. After making an offering of tobacco and asking the spirits to bring a vision to the child, the parent leaves. For a number of days the child waits alone, waiting for a vision.

The vision often comes in the form of a particular animal who gives special instructions on how to live, teaches special songs, and shows how to use special medicines. This animal or guardian spirit becomes the person’s personal Manitou. Often the person then carries a representation of this spirit which represents the essences of the spiritual power. Throughout one’s life one can call upon the guardian spirit for assistance, guidance and protection by using a representation.

Among the Western Apache there is a girl’s puberty ceremony which invests in young girls the qualities which are felt to be important for adulthood. This is an elaborate ceremony which has consequences for the entire community. In the ceremony, the power of Changing Woman enters the girl’s body and lives there for the four days of the ceremony. The gift of Changing Woman is longevity and physical health.

Among the Kwakwaka’wakw on the Northwest Coast, the girl’s puberty ceremony, called the Ixanttsila, was a pivotal moment in a girl’s life, marking her transition into womanhood. In preparation for the ceremony, the girl would be secluded for 16 days. During this time she would be taught how to conduct herself.

The transition from adult to elder is more subtle. Among many Indian groups, this is seen by the use of titles such as “uncle,” “aunt,” “grandfather,” and “grandmother.” These titles do not indicate genetic relationships, but rather they show a respected status. It is to these elders that the youth and the adults turn for the teachings about the culture, its history and its meaning.  

Wellbriety Cycles: Cycle of the Seasons

( – promoted by navajo)

In traditional cultures, the cycle of the seasons was-and often still is-recognized and celebrated with ceremonies. These ceremonies are a way of obtaining and maintaining harmony with the natural world. For humans to live in health, happiness, and harmony, they must be in tune with the continually changing world around them. This diary is going to look at the Cycle of the Seasons.

Wellbriety Background:

Wellbriety is a concept which grew out of attempts to bring sobriety to American Indian alcoholics and drug addicts. In order to bring about long-term sobriety, long-term changes in addictive behaviors, the entire community needs to embrace wellness-to obtain wellbriety. Wellbriety is a community approach which incorporates traditional Native American world views.

Wellbriety views the Medicine Wheel as a circle of teaching that explains that anything growing is a system of circles and cycles:

One of these is the cycle of seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Another is the cycle of life: baby, youth, adult, elder. On a personal level, the four directions of human growth are emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual.

The Cycle of the Seasons in Native Cultures:

In traditional cultures, the cycle of the seasons was-and often still is-recognized and celebrated with ceremonies. These ceremonies are a way of obtaining and maintaining harmony with the natural world. For humans to live in health, happiness, and harmony, they must be in tune with the continually changing world around them.

The Tohono O’odham are an agricultural people who farmed in the Sonoran desert of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. At the beginning of the rainy season in July they hold the Saguaro Festival to bring rain to the desert. As a part of the ceremony, cactus wine – tiswin – is made and consumed.

In the Saguaro Festival, the local village representative plus three guests occupy four directional positions representing the rain spirits of these directions. Cup bearers then bring the tiswin. They drink a portion of it and sing four rain songs. They then dip their fingers into the gourd and sprinkle the beverage on the ground to symbolize rainfall. The first night of the festival is called “sit-and-drink” and during this time ritual speeches are made. Following this everyone consumes the tiswin until it is gone. In the words of one woman:

“People must all make themselves drunk like plants in the rain and they must sing for happiness.”

The seasons are marked not only by the changing weather patterns, but also by changes in the sun, the moon, and the stars. For many Indian groups in the Southeastern Culture Area, the movement of the stars through the seasons are viewed as a celestial canoe. The Alabama, for example, call the bowl of the Big Dipper the Boat Stars while their Creek neighbors call this Pilohabi, meaning “image of a canoe.”

Traditionally the Iroquois (Oneida, Onondaga, Mohawk, Cayuga, and Seneca) would hold a nine-day Midwinter Ceremony to close out the old year and to bring in the new year. The ceremony began five days after the first new moon following the zenith of Pleiades. The teachings of Handsome Lake, however, say that the ceremony should start five days after the first January new moon. The timing of the ceremony with the zenith point of the Pleiades has an important association. During the ceremony people are dancing on earth when the line of communication with the sky realm is open directly above and while the sky spirits are also dancing .

The first part of the Midwinter Ceremony is concerned with curing, dream fulfillment, renewal, and personal well-being. This was a time for the cleansing of thoughts, not of deeds. It was a time when the fears and worries of the year were bought into the open and cured. The second part of the ceremony was concerned with sacred rituals and food spirit observations.

Among many of the Indian nations of the Northwest, the year was divided into two periods. The non-ceremonial or secular time was from March to November when the people were primarily occupied in fishing, hunting, and gathering. The Kwakiutl call this Bakoos time. Nuu-chah-nulth artist and ritualist Ki-ke-in writes:

“To continue this good life, we as kuu-as (real living human beings) must follow a disciplined schedule and observe our sacred practices governed by lunar and seasonal cycles.”

One of the ceremonies found among the Indian nations of the Northwest coast is the First Salmon Ceremony. The salmon are beings who live like people in their own world and each year they appear as fish to give their flesh to humans. The salmon, therefore, are treated with special reverence and a ceremony is held at the first catch to honor the salmon and to encourage its abundance. This ceremony serves to remind the people of the rhythmic cycles in nature and the interdependence of all beings.  

The Wellbriety Medicine Wheel

( – promoted by navajo)

Alcoholism and drug abuse are major Indian problems both on the reservations and in the urban Indian communities. The most traditional non-Indian approaches to dealing with these diseases-Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous-are spiritually based in the European Protestant Christian tradition. While these approaches do work, they often do not correspond well with Native cultures and Native-based spirituality.

Wellbriety is a movement which seeks to break the cycle of hurt caused by alcoholism with an emphasis on Native spiritual traditions. Wellbriety has incorporated parts of the approaches of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous into a kind of pan-Indian spirituality based largely on modern Lakota spirituality. They state:

“The good healing ways of the 12 Steps can be blended with our traditions in many different activities.”

Wellbriety views the Medicine Wheel as a circle of teaching that explains that anything growing is a system of circles and cycles. One of these is the cycle of seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Another is the cycle of life: baby, youth, adult, elder. On a personal level, the four directions of human growth are emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual.

East:

The Wellbriety Medicine Wheel begins by facing the East: Finding the Creator. The East, the direction of the rising sun, involves three steps:

Step One: Honesty. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that we had lost control of our lives.

Step Two: Hope. We came to believe a Power greater than ourselves could help us regain control.

Step Three: Faith. We made a decision to ask for help from a Higher Power and others who understand.

South:

This is followed by facing South: Finding Ourselves. South is the direction when the sun is spreading its warmth and powers to help each plant and bird to personally grow. The steps which come from the South are:  

Step Four: Courage. We stopped and thought about our strengths and our weaknesses and thought about ourselves.

Step Five: Integrity. We admitted to the Great Spirit, to ourselves, and to another person the things we thought were wrong about ourselves.

Step Six: Willingness. We were ready, with the help of the Great Spirit, to change.

West:

Next is facing West: Finding our Relatives. West is the direction of the setting sun and the direction of forgiveness. The steps which come from the West are:

Step 7: Humility. We humbly asked a Higher Power and our friends to help us to change.

Step 8: Forgiveness. We made a list of people who were hurt by our drinking and want to make up for these hurts.

Step 9: Justice. We are making up to those people whenever we can, except when to do so would hurt them more.

North:

Last is facing North: Finding the Elders’ Wisdom. The powers and gifts from the North are the words and actions which are needed to interface with people of all types. The steps which come from the North are:

Step 10: Perseverance. We continue to think about our strengths and weaknesses and when we are wrong we say so.

Step 11: Spiritual Awareness. We pray and think about ourselves, praying only for the strength to do what is right.

Step 12: Service. We try to help other alcoholics and to practice these principles in everything we do.

Putting It Together:

According to the Wellbriety movement:

“Placing the 12 steps in a circle also helps us to realize that all 12 of these great principles for recovery are interrelated and interconnected. Think of the 12 steps placed around the outside circle of a dream catcher.”

Wellbriety summarizes the Medicine Wheel with the cycle of healing:

East: Recognize means I finally accept the fact that I am powerless or helpless over my addiction and my life is unmanageable.

South: Acknowledge means I am ready to do the hard personal work to allow what I recognized to actually come in and change me.

West: Forgive means to finally take off the backpack full of harms and hurts that I have been carrying around.

North: Change means that I stop doing all the negative behaviors that were associated with my drinking and drugging.

American Indian Alcoholism

( – promoted by navajo)

One of the most common stereotypes about Indians is that of the drunken Indian, a reflection of a higher rate of alcoholism among Indians. While there are many who feel that Indians are biologically or genetically incapable of consuming alcohol in a “normal” fashion, research on alcoholism generally does not bear this out. The persistence of the idea that Indians metabolize alcohol differently and therefore get drunk on less alcohol and are therefore more likely to become alcoholic is based on the drunken Indian stereotype rather than on any scientific research on the etiology of alcoholism.

Another common misconception is that Indian people did not have alcohol until the European invasion. While most Indian cultures did not include alcohol, there are some notable exceptions. Both the Tohono O’odham and the Apache, for example, produced alcoholic beverages long before the coming of the Europeans. The use of alcohol in these cultures, however, was generally ceremonial rather than social and as a consequence there is no evidence that it resulted in alcoholism.

Indian people learned to drink European alcohol such as rum from people who were not “normal” drinkers. That is, the early frontier Europeans – the traders, the trappers, the explorers – were often social rejects in their own society. Many were alcoholics. The drinking pattern which they taught Indians was not the polite social drinking of upper class European society, but rather it was the alcoholic model of the lower classes. Indians learned from these people that the purpose of drinking was to get drunk and drunkenness was to be expressed in violence and anti-social behavior.

There are several dimensions to alcohol in European-Indian relations. First, traders liked using alcohol as a trade good for several reasons: it was something that Indians wanted; it was consumable and therefore Indians would trade for it again and again; it was addictive and therefore Indians would trade for it again and again; and drunken Indians were more easily swindled during trading sessions. Indian agents liked alcohol because drunken Indians were more easily swindled during treaty negotiations.

On the other hand, there were those who were against the use of alcohol by Indians. Many traditional leaders, seeing the damage created by alcoholism, have called for a return to traditional ways, ways which did not include alcohol.

In 1832 the United States passed a law which states: “No ardent spirits shall be hereafter introduced, under any pretense, into the Indian country.” This total prohibition applied to traders and non-traders and allows no exception. During the next century, numerous laws – federal, state, territorial, and local – attempt to stop Indians from being able to obtain or consume alcohol.

The prohibition against Indian drinking continued into the twenties century. For example, in 1948 Congress passed legislation which allows Indians to use alcohol only for mechanical, scientific, or medicinal purposes.

In 1953 Congress ended the prohibition against selling alcohol and firearms to Indians. The tribes, with the approval of the Secretary of the Interior, were allowed to regulate the introduction of alcohol into Indian Country. As a result, there are some tribes which allow alcohol to be sold, possessed, and consumed on the reservation, while there are others that prohibit alcohol.

There are some who feel that the high rate of alcoholism and the high number of deaths which are alcohol related are a direct consequence of the federal prohibition against alcohol. This prohibition did not allow Indian cultures to develop their own norms for the use of alcohol.

Alcoholism is one of the most serious health concerns among Indians today. The death rate from alcoholism is often underreported for alcoholic death can be manifested in liver disease as well as in homicide, suicide, and death by accident and misadventure. In addition, alcoholism impacts children in the form of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE).

To combat alcoholism, treatment programs and education are needed. To be effective, however, these programs need to be culturally relevant. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), for example, is generally viewed as an efficient treatment program for alcoholism. AA developed to meet the needs of middle class English-speaking alcoholics and tends to be most effective among Indians who are highly assimilated into American culture. When modified to reflect Indian values and language AA becomes more effective among Native Americans.

One example of an effective approach to dealing with alcoholism in American Indian communities is the Red Road to Wellbriety.

Wellbriety means to be both sober and well. It means to have come through recovery from chemical dependency and to be a recovered person who is going beyond survival to thriving in his or her life and in the life of the community. The Well part of Wellbriety means to live the healthy parts of the principles, laws and values of traditional culture. It means to heal from dysfunctional behaviors other than chemical dependency, as well as chemical dependency itself. This includes co dependency, ACOA behavior, domestic or family violence, gambling, and other shortcomings of character

On many reservations and in some urban areas, there are traditional ceremonies – such as the sweat lodge and the Sun Dance – which combat alcoholism through abstinence. In addition, many powwows are “alcohol-free” and promote abstinence and sobriety. These traditional approaches appear to be making inroads against alcoholism.