It is said that everything in creation has a purpose. The honeybee collects nectar from flowers and assists with the plants propagation while providing us with a healthy snack. An ant helps turn up soil and aids in the important work of decomposition. From bears to bats, every creature plays a function in the vitality of the planet. When it comes to one of the most intelligent creatures on Mother Earth, what is our purpose? What did we come here for? Such questions are often left up to philosophers and spiritual leaders.
But for any of us to begin to find the answer, start by looking back at all the animal creatures and see how their lives work with creation. Alcohol and drugs block our natural bond to the world around us and produces an imbalance within our spirit. So, it’s safe to say we didn’t come here to be alcoholics and drug addicts.
Since the landing of the Mayflower and up until today, the destructive and insidious force of alcohol has kept up a choking pace within tribal communities, tailor fitting its turmoil for each generation and time. Cheerful faces on social media holding up a beer like it’s the Stanley Cup— alcohol has shown the tenacious ability to have us celebrate and consume it despite the catastrophic rate at which it cripples our communities.
So what has alcohol and drugs really done for us lately? Teen suicide, birth defects, break up of families, violence in the home and community, high incarceration rates and detrimental to the education of our youth. This, not so sobering list goes on and on.
In a 2008 report from the CDC, 11.7 percent of deaths among Native Americans and Alaska Natives between 2001 and 2005 were alcohol-related, compared with 3.3 percent for the U.S.A as a whole. Native American fatalities 66 percent of victims of alcohol were younger than 50. Seven percent were less than 20 years old.
A 2010 CDC report says 51.3 percent adults 18 years of age and over are regular drinkers.
According to the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, the proportion of Native American families with an absent mother or father is twice that of the general population.
At the same time, tribal nations are becoming more financially solvent, alcohol and drug abuse is increasing exponentially. The infrastructure we must work on first is our youth and families. That is where the nation building starts.
There are many factors why people turn to these substances. Some of the reasons are the illusion of the escape from pain or reality, the ‘separateness’ that we try to overcome or the need to ‘fit in.’ This is where alcohol and drugs does its best lying: under the pretense to “connect” or “free” us from something. When we use, we cause a rippling effect of hurt within, for those who love us, and the people who will be the victim of our next blackout.
Booze and drugs is the ‘un natural’ Selection when considering how vibrant our purpose here can ultimately be. Much like saying no to Native mascots and the misappropriation of Native culture, let us stop the misappropriation of our souls to drugs and alcohol.
I was 21 years old and I watched a documentary on how the first Europeans brought rum and used it to deceive my ancestors. Call it a spiritual awakening or me just being wicked pissed, but I never drank again after that day. That was 27 years ago. I knew I had a purpose beyond falling for the 500-year-old scam. I wanted to participate in life not be a victim of it.
Thinking you can’t live without it or have fun is more nonsense. One of things I love to share with youth is how robust and beautiful life can be when you are not enslaved by the same poison your ancestors were given and had the land and dignity robbed from them.
For people who are suffering from an addiction the first step is admitting you have a problem. Denial, like shame or guilt is not tangible. You can’t see it, smell it or touch it. They only exist in our mind and interfere with our healing process. Letting go of these will allow your body to get the love it needs.
The good news is, you never have to drink or drug again. You can stop today. Right now. The Red Road to recovery is worth it, you are worth it. Ceremony, counseling, a 12 step program or all three; It will be your personal journey to find what fits you best.
Myself along with other tribal leaders have partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to help find dynamic and engaging ways to combat this problem of addiction in Native teens. Collectively, we were able to put a booklet together that speaks directly to Native youth. The book covers issues of substance abuse and holding on to tradition, while dealing with the social pressures of main stream society. The book is appropriately called, Coming Home. Thus far we have held youth summits, training for tribal leaders and workshops. The work has been promising. We are currently in the process of a second edition. In the next book, we will go deeper into intellectual cultural knowledge, Healing Ways of mind and body and Traditional Story. We will find ways to utilize the practices that sustained our ancestors for thousands of years and integrate that with current data to formulate comprehensive material for our teens. Getting more Native and non-Natives involved in this work is one of our goals.
There is no simple answer to this dilemma. There is certainly not a one size fits all solution. However, with more people engaged to deal with this crisis, the better chance we have to save our next generation.
Larry Spotted Crow Mann is a citizen of the Nipmuc Tribe of Massachusetts. He is an internationally acclaimed writer, poet, cultural educator, traditional storyteller, tribal drummer /dancer and motivational speaker involving youth sobriety, cultural and environmental awareness. Mann is also a board member of the Nipmuc Preservation Trust, which is an organization set up to promote the cultural, social and spiritual needs of Nipmuc people as well an educational resource of Native American studies. He travels throughout the United States, Canada and parts of Europe to schools, colleges, pow wows and other organizations sharing the music, culture and history of Nipmuc people. He has also given lectures at universities throughout New England on issues ranging from Native American Sovereignty to Identity. In 2010 his poetry was a winner in the Memscapes Journal of Fine Arts and 2013 Nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is the author of the internationally acclaimed Tales From the Whispering Basket, as well as the newly released groundbreaking novel, The Mourning Road to Thanksgiving.