In memory of his uncle, Leo Vernon Beaulieu—a Marine who was killed in Vietnam in 1966 and who won a Purple Heart and the Navy Cross posthumously—a Montana State University (MSU) Native American Studies professor has launched a website to help veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through forums that discuss ceremonies.
“Strong evidence exists in scholarly literature that traditional American Indian ceremonies such as sweat lodges and veterans’ pow wows have helped American Indian Vietnam veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Lawrence Gross, assistant professor of Native American Studies at MSU and an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) Indian who is a member of the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.
While the website—VeteranCeremonies.org/default.aspx—has a section dedicated to Native American Veterans, Gross doesn’t advocate that non-Natives try replicating Native ceremonies because it could be dangerous.
“Instead, we encourage individuals and groups to look to the example of American Indians and develop ceremonies based on their own traditions. These would include ceremonies for sending soldiers to war, reintegrating them back into society, honoring their contributions to our freedom, and making use of their experiences by placing them in leadership positions within their groups. We hope that both religious and lay organizations will heed this call.”
Gross, whose Anishinaabe name is Anwaatin—calm water—is paying for the site himself and hopes to calm the troubled hearts of veterans.
According to the Nebraska Department of Veteran’s Affairs, PTSD is “a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a life-threatening event such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood.”
Gross wants people to use Native ceremonies for veterans to create their own that will have meaning in their specific religion.
“The scholarly literature indicates even though American Indian Vietnam Indians experienced PTSD at levels similar to other groups, now, about 25 years later, American Indians exhibit fewer 12-month symptomology compared to other groups,” said Gross, who has a doctorate in religious studies from Stanford and master’s degrees from both Harvard and Stanford. “There is empirical evidence that going through ceremonies can help with PTSD. We think we can help.”