Wellbriety 4 American Indians in OKC CANCELLED!

A bad spirit rides through the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and thinks to himself, “Nay, keep moving.” Then he rides on to the Center Point Halfway House in Oklahoma City where David Dobbs is the program director and says to himself, “Nay, keep moving, he’s full.” Last, he rides and sees the people that participate in Wellbriety and thinks, “OK, they’ll do.”  

So, why did not the bad spirit stop at the Oklahoma Department of Corrections or David Dobbs, the program director at Center Point where he just revoked the religious rights of halfway house inmates to participate in the Inipi (sweat lodge), and to go to Wellbriety meetings at a Unitarian Church after over 5 years of them being “allowed” to do so?

Too much competition, RIGHT???!!!

Mr. Dobbs has “decided” that since my relatives aren’t picked up by a man to go to the Inipi (sweat) Ceremony, that since sage smells like marijuana, and since he has some personal vendetta against the sacred tobacco required to smoke the chanupa (pipe) – that they just can’t do that no more!!!

Our small circle provides a bridge from the halfway house to being integrated into life after incarceration, increasing their chances of having a good life through the principals of Wellbriety.


The Wellbriety Medicine Wheel

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.

Please contact David Dobbs and encourage him to “allow” the Wellbriety members to have their religious freedom, and likewise with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections on their Twitter page.


http://www.doc.state.ok.us/com…

Center Point, Inc. – OKC

Male:  200

Per Diem:  $33.75 (Work Release)

Per Diem:  $39.32 (Treatment)

5245 S. I-35 Service Rd.

OK City, OK  73129

Phone: (405) 605-2488

Fax: (405) 605-2487

David Dobbs, Program Director  

ddobbs@cpinc.org

Host Facility:  Union City CC

https://twitter.com/OklaDOC

Mitakuye Oyasin  

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.  

Impressions of the Standing Rock Reservation – Photo Edition

( – promoted by navajo)

Cross-posted on the Daily Kos

For those of you who haven’t followed the Pretty Bird Woman House diaries, to make a long story perhaps too short, last fall I became the shelter’s fundraiser. Last winter, due to the generosity of the Netroots, the shelter bought a 3 bedroom house in McLaughlin SD, and it now a fully-functioning, 3 bedroom women’s shelter.

Georgia Little Shield, the shelter’s director, invited me out to Standing Rock to observe some domestic violence prevention workshops they were doing in the communities with Cecilia Fire Thunder and Carmen O’Leary, two famous activists. Unfortunately, due to some snow and severe cold the workshop was postponed until after I left. So, I had to stay indoors for the first few days and then I got to know the eastern part of the reservation for the rest of the time.

Below the fold you’ll find lots of photos of Standing Rock and some of my impressions. I will follow with another diary strictly about the shelter.

You’ll see that this has taken me a while to write this. I came down with the flu after I got back, and also had some more thinking to do about what I saw.  

Before continuing, I want to add that I had the privilege of accompanying two wonderful French journalists, Anne Senges and Stephane Gladieu who are doing a story on the shelter and Standing Rock for Marie Claire magazine (they found out about the story on DKos!) and Getty images, which will have the story in English along with the photos for editors.

Because they were so taken with the problems on Standing Rock, they will provide us with the entire article and photos to use as a fundraising tool. So, in about March I’ll be doing a diary that’s a reprint of that article, or they will post it directly here. They got some amazing individual stories, and the photographer is one of most well known in France, so I am excited about that.

First, lets take a look at Standing Rock in the winter. I arrived to blowing snow and below zero temps at night. Georgia Little Shield was supposed to pick me up in Rapid City, but sent Tannekkia Williams instead because of a death in the family. Going into Rapid City was bad advice – I would never have suspected that anyone would think nothing of driving 5 hours to pick someone up at the airport (Bismark ND would have been closer to Standing Rock, but Georgia lives on the Cheyenne River Reservation, which is on the southern boarder).

Though Tannekkia, who is a shelter volunteer and board member, grew up in Minneapolis but she married an enrolled member of Standing Rock (and then become a domestic violence victim), and is quite assimilated into the Lakota culture. If you went to the Pretty Bird Woman House panel at the Netroots Nation, you might remember her. She is a very articulate spokesperson for the shelter and anti-domestic violence efforts on Standing Rock.

Tannekkia greeted me with the joyful announcement that she had seen 30 spotted eagles on her trip down, and one even smashed into the side of her car. She considered this a very good omen.  

After we had dinner in Rapid City, Tanekkia took me to nearby Bear Butte, one of the two major Lakota sacred sites in the region (the other being Devilstower), even though it was dark and wet snow was falling. After a drive up a very long hill and a very short hike we reached a clearing near the summit. Despite the weather and the darkness, the area felt incredibly peaceful, and pretty soon the clouds parted to reveal a nearly-full moon, which lit up our surroundings for a few minutes.  The clearing also contained a skeleton of a sweat lodge, next to a large a pile of stones used to heat it. Tannekkia explained that elder men used that lodge when they went up there. She also pointed out tobacco prayer flags along the way, and offered some of her own to a big boulder from a little pouch she had with her. We both left feeling peaceful and refreshed.

Well, during the now six-hour trip back to Standing Rock in the blowing snow, we found out that the workshops for the whole week had been postponed, which also meant that Georgia would be holed up in her trailer on the Cheyenne River Reservation for much of the week as well. The Tribal Offices also shut down for most of the week. Such is winter in the Dakotas.  

Not to worry, there was always the incredible scenery.  

A typical view driving around Standing Rock in the winter.

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Standing Rock house

Little House on the Prairie!

Little House on the Prairir

buffalo on the STanding Rock jan 09

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buffalo cropped

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Frozen Missouri River from Mobridge SD. In Lakota it’s Lake Oahe. This part of the river was originally a stream but was flooded for a damn, which drove dozens of families from their homes and killed a lot of trees, from what I could see of the stumps farther up river. The Tribe receives monies each year in supposed reparations for this. This year they decided to use some of those funds for a sexual assault response team, which will probably transform Tannekkia from a volunteer into a full time staff member with an office in the Tribal Council building. On the hill you can also see the smaller casino on the Reservation.

sitting bull monumnet full autocontrast

Sitting Bull Monument

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Tannekkia in an impromptu shoot

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tannik big sky horses cropped_edited-1

Big sky at dusk

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Prairie Pastels

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Looking at the Sakagawea monument at sunset

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A prairie dog village in winter

General Information from the Standing Rock website

Standing Rock Reservation Eight DistrictsDistrict Population

1. Fort Yates, North Dakota 1,961 5. Little Eagle, South Dakota 695

2. Porcupine, North Dakota 219 6. Mclaughlin (Bear Soldier), SD 758

3. Kenel, South Dakota 259 7. Bullhead (Rock Creek), SD 692

4. Wakpala, South Dakota 707 8. Cannon Ball, North Dakota 847

Tribal/Agency Headquarters: Fort Yates, North Dakota

Counties: Sioux County, North Dakota; Corson, Dewey and Ziebach Counties, South Dakota

Federal Reservation: 1873

Population of enrolled members: 10,859

Reservation Population: 6,171

Density:: 0.4 persons per square mile

Labor Force: 3,761

Unemployment percentage rate: 79

Language: Lakota/Dakota and English

Lakota/Dakota Bands: Hunkpapa, Blackfeet, Yanktonia, Cuthead

Land Status: Acres

Total Area 2,300,000

Tribal Owned 866,072

Tribal Owned Allotted 542,543

Total tribal owned 1,408,061

Non-Indian Owned 1,283,000

Reservoir Taken area 55,993

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Tribal Council Building

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Prairie Knights Casino in Ft. Yates. There is a smaller one near Mobridge.

Housing

One thing we learned during the shelter fundraiser is that there are chronic housing shortages on the reservation. This gave me the impression that all the housing stock would be terrible, but it’s not. There still isn’t enough of it, but at least much of it is not as terrible as I thought it would be. Some of it is bad, but much of it is OK. But since there are shortages often more than one generation must live in a house, and people don’t have a choice of what neighborhood they will live in. It kind of reminded me of the situation in Cuba.

You do see this:

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But it seemed that there was more housing like this:

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Bear Soldier South

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Wakpala

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Wakpala

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Here’s what the Standing Rock website says about the housing situation:

The Standing Rock Housing Authority constructs and manages over 650 homesfor Tribal members living on the reservation. This includes homes on scattered sites built through the HUD Mutual Help home ownership program on individual land or Tribal land leased for homesites. The other housing in the districts is low-income HUD Low Rent for individual Indian residents in reservation communities. As private housing stock is limited, some of the Standing Rock members own their own homes in the rural areas through other private financing. The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service have some housing available in McLaughlin and McIntosh for their employees.The Tribe plans to build a number of apartment complexes in the future.

The need for housing is great on Standing Rock. The Tribe is looking into Habitat for Humanity homes and the government Home Grant project The number of persons per household in the Standing Rock Service Area is 4.60 compared to 3.27 for the State of North Dakota and 3.27 for the State of South Dakota. The number of persons per family for U.S. All Races is 3.80.

Social Customs

Sometimes, when you are looking at one thing about a group of people, in this case domestic or other interpersonal violence, it’s easy to lose track of the more basic, and beautiful things about their culture. What I was touched by was the fact that people ascribed great meaning to small gestures or events, such as siting an eagle in the sky, or getting a small gift of tobacco from a visitor.  

I also found people’s appreciation for the earth and its inhabitants profoundly spiritual, no matter what other behaviors they exhibited on top of that.

When we were going around with the journalists, Tannekkia suggested that we take people either a pouch of tobacco or some coffee (Folgers seems to be the only brand around, by the way). So we did, and you could see by people’s faces that this small gesture made a big difference.

For example,as he was setting up a photo shoot at Georgia’s house on the Cheyenne River Reservation, Stephane gave her husband Norman a cigarette, which he thought Norman would smoke. Instead, he put it behind an eagle feather he had propped up inside of a picture in the kitchen so that he could pray on it the next time he was inspired to do so (usually outside in nature).

Here is the cigarette under the eagle feather:

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Two other things common in people’s homes are star quilts and dried prairie turnips.

Here, Rhea sews a star quilt, which she will sell on the Reservation. Some people also sell them on the Internet, at sites like eBay.

Woman sewing star quilt

From what people told me, the turnips are more for decoration, unless you’re really hungry and bother to soak them.

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This is just a taste of what is hidden just below the surface of all the poverty and sickness on Indian reservations.

The Reservation as a Network of Kin and Fictive Kin

Another lovely thing about the Lakota people is their system of fictive kin, as anthropologists would call it. People easily “take” people as adopted brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, etc. You can become someone’s adopted relative by ceremony or just by them saying so. Tannekkia’s father-in-law, for exampl, “took her as his daughter”, so she thought of and referred to him as her father even after her divorce. It did get me a little confused though when people would talk about all these brothers and sisters, sometimes saying “adopted” as a preface and sometimes not. It seemed to me that everyone had adopted kin that they took seriously as such.

I also thought it was lovely that people always used kinship terms when referring to someone they were either close with or respected a lot, perhaps for being an elder. For example, I became auntie to Tannekkia’s kids. However, even with Georgia’s two foster daughters, the youngest one, who was eight, would call her older sister, who was 17, “sister.” Elders are usually called Auntie, Uncle, or Grannie or Grandpa. I really liked that.

Isaac jan09

Tannekkia’s four year old Isaac playing in the back yard.

Tanekkia and Vaughn Edward

Tannekkia and her son Vaughn Edward. Cute kids, eh!

Interpersonal Violence

Yes, this is an endemic problem on all reservations, along with alcoholism, drug abuse, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, etc. Standing Rock was especially bad because it only had 2 officers operating in a place the size of Connecticut. So, people had a lot of impunity, especially if they were near the border town of Mobridge. All you had to was cross the Missouri River, or Lake Oahe, and you were out of the tribe’s jurisdiction.

This was in my face as soon as I got there. Tannekkia and her brother, who live in college housing on the Sitting Bull campus, had been woken up early in the morning a night or two before I arrived by a woman next door who had been battered by her son. She was visiting, and they both started to drink. Well, he ended up punching and kicking her so hard in one of her eyes that it burst. Tannekkia and her brother separtely described the woman as crying, with one eye crying tears and the other one crying blood. That visual was hard to shake. They also told me that it had taken 20 or 30 minutes to convince her to call the police because she was afraid she would get into trouble for being drunk, even though she probably will never see out of that eye again.

The kid finally got arrested two weeks after the incident. The case is being passed up to the federal level (read, FBI) due to the severity of the woman’s injuries.

As if that weren’t enough, the woman in the photo told us a story of how she had been brutally raped and beaten in 1980 – even her pelvis was broken, and she had been dragged around behind a pick up truck. Although she wouldn’t admit it, her current husband was also beating her (he had broken her arm a month or two before, but it had healed before we got there), and they both drank.

Her attacker had gotten 18 years in jail but when he was released, he came to live in her neighborhood, and due to the housing shortage she cannot move away from him or the three pedophiles that live in the neighborhood. She seemed to have PTSD to me, judging by the way she was acting when she was telling this story. I would too, and, I thought, I’d probably drink as well.

The woman’s daughter, she told us, had been a victim of a horrific incident of domestic violence that involved her husband locking her in the basement naked for 2 weeks, and so severely beating her that she suffered brain injuries. After 2 years she still suffers occasional seizures.

And, this is the neighborhood where Jackie Brown Otter lives, remember, with the sister, Ivy (whose Lakota name is Pretty Bird Woman) who was found raped and murdered. Well, there were two more cases of young women being raped, murdered and thrown into the field behind the complex in previous years as well.

And all of this takes place within a social context where people gossip so much about each other that it has destroyed all trust, so it’s very difficult for people to work together to do things like have a healing circle.  

That last element really had me stumped.

In my opinion, having done research on culture and trauma, the community really needs to start paying attention to PTSD much more seriously, since PTSD is also directly related to increased personal violence, depression, and self-medicating behaviors, like drug and alcohol abuse. This is a cycle that began with the boarding schools, and genocide before that, and now it has gone on for generations.

Wellbriety Journey 2009

I like this new movement started by White Bison in Colorado. It’s called the Wellbriety movement, and it uses Native American cultural tools to help people overcome their addictions and other problems. I have an article about it on the Pretty Bird Woman House blog.

This year they are embarking on a cross-country trip called the Wellbriety Journey of Forgiveness. It for one is going to ask President Obama to issue an apology for sending Native Americans to boarding schools. There is precedent for this in Australia and Canada, so it’s not a far-fetched request. However, on the advice of a group of elders, they will be forgiving the U.S. whether or not the government issues an apology. Pretty interesting. It starts to get at the root of some of the cultural trauma that is the original source of the cycle of violence we see on reservations today.

I will not say that I have any kind of in depth knowlege after two weeks on the reservation in the winter, so I’d like to go back in the summer and see what I think then. It’s a very interesting and beautiful place, even though a lot of things about it area also pretty depressing.