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keep in mind..it's just what I think.

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  • keep in mind..it's just what I think.

    The importance of sobriety in Native America
    I read an agenda for the Sacred Hoop’s stop at the State Capitol in Helena, Montana and one of the items being addressed by Lieutenant Governor Bohlinger was the importance of Native people staying sober. I thought to myself, what a topic to write about.
    In my little life, I’ve seen what alcohol and drugs can do to a person. Most of the time, when a person you love is sucked into substance abuse, the only thing to do is sit and watch. There is really nothing one person can do to stop this abuse. It is hard to watch a loved one progress downward as their whole being appears aged and monstrous. I knew people who suffered from substance abuse well and knew them to be good people, when they were sober. However, once the substance abuse started, that good person turned into someone that would steal, become violent, yell, and seem to become stupid. Most of the time, being stupid isn’t too harmful, but it usually causes the person to go to jail about a million times for doing the same stupid things.
    I don’t know if a magic pill or program will ever stop a person from reaching for a beer, cigarette, or narcotic to quell those constant worries and bouts of depression. Some people are just messed up and think a drug is the magic cure for the horrible way they feel. Being sober isn’t exactly on the top of the To-Do List in some people’s lives. I wonder, though, if they have ever thought of a new way to live and if they have, have they tried to live that way?
    When I studied Abnormal Psychology, I learned about classical conditioning. An experiment involving a person named Pavlov and his dog was the basis behind the theory. When Pavlov rang a bell, a steak was presented to the dog. The experiment was repeated several times to condition the dog to know that when the bell rang, a steak was coming in the near future. Although the ringing bell had nothing to do with the steak, once the bell rang, the dog would salivate. I guess when some people look around at the “Rez Life” they live in, it is like the bell that rings. People salivate because it is reminding them that because they live on a rez, a beer is sure to pop into their hands. It is all they have ever seen and known. Nevermind that living on the rez and drinking have really nothing to do with each other if one chooses to see it that way.
    I think that the media portrays living on the rez a lot more tragic than it really is. I think that living on the Flathead Rez and being an enrolled tribal member is something to be thankful for. We have a beautiful home and really neat, intelligent, understanding, and helpful people that live here. We are fortunate to be here at all. We are lucky to even have held onto this small chunk of land called our reservation, especially since we all know the white people want it all. We should be thankful towards our ancestors who gave up their way of life just so that their unborn children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren would have a home and be able to survive.
    Every sacrifice made by these people was done out of the love that each one had for their people, land, and culture. Why does it seem that most people today do not make decisions based on that premise? Why are there children on this reservation who die in fields from alcohol poisoning? Why have there been so many alcohol related accidents and deaths? Why are there neglected children? Did we not learn anything from our ancestors? Did we forget that our people were highly regarded as hunters, warriors, botanists, scientists, doctors, astronomers, and philosophers who made huge contributions to the American way of life as we know it?
    Why do I think it is important that Native people strive for sobriety? I know personally, my energy and power as a person is tremendous because I inherited it from my ancestors. I know about the people I come from, therefore, I understand the potential I have to achieve great things if I so choose it to be that way. However, I have seen the other side of that energy spectrum and have fallen into despair and depression just like anybody else. I realized and learned quickly that the energy and power I have within me can also be used negatively and take on a power of its own to drag me down to depths I hope to never see again. It’s like the plants that our people used long ago. Some of the more powerful plants that our people used could be used to do good for others or bad. It all depended on how it was prepared and used. The same thing goes for our minds, hearts, bodies, and souls. Depending on how we prepare those things and use them is up to us. If we wish to create good for ourselves and others around us, we have to make that choice for the right reasons.
    As Native people, we all have inherited great strength and power from our ancestors and if we choose to use it in a good way by getting an education and learning about the white and Native ways and how both are integrated, we can grow stronger than any white person on this continent because we will be strong in both cultures. A Native person could go into any situation and succeed, but a white person could never step foot into our world and do the same thing. That knowledge is power. Sobriety of all Native people is the first step to achieving that power and raising awareness about the possible power each Native person holds within him or herself. I would also say to not stop there. Learn about people from all over the world and understand that we are all connected to each other.
    Originally, Native people were created to be caretakers of the land. Looking around at this world with all of its pollution, greed, corrupt leaders, bickering over religion, and turmoil can be very discouraging. Our purpose on this Earth was to take care of it like it takes care of us. Without this Earth, we are truly nothing. When policies enacted were designed to make Native people give up their way of life, a conflict resulted. Native people had a choice to make about assimilating into the American way of life or dying. Yet, how were Native people supposed to know that the decision to assimilate would be to help to rip apart the very Earth that was so highly regarded and to end up doing the same wasteful practices as the non-Native people.
    When white people came to this land, the Native people could have killed them all easily. However, there was a pity felt for these foreigners. Perhaps, their short hair, pale skin, and diseased bodies were a sight to behold as most of the Native people fed, clothed, and doctored these people. I guess Natives in those days figured what goes around comes around, but in this case, hospitality towards strangers turned out to be the worst idea in American history. Who knew that such an action would prompt such a consequence?
    Now, we fight monsters in a liquid form and we are losing that fight as younger people are beginning to take up this fight against alcohol and are losing. They lose the full potential they have to grow strong mentally and physically. They suffer for an entire life-time and many people gave up hope on them when they were born. When they die or something horrible befalls them whether they end up horribly maimed or incarcerated, people act like they have to do something. As though a change can take place overnight, actions are performed but none really help. How does a curfew help? The only way it helps is if the parents give a damn and don’t even LET their children run around outside.
    I think this quote says it all. “Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men, we didn't have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delinquents. Without a prison, there can be no delinquents. We had no locks, nor keys and therefore among us there were no thieves. When someone was so poor that he couldn't afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, He would, in that case, receive it all as a gift. We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property. We didn't know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth. We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another. We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don't know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society.” -John (Fire) Lame Deer--Sioux Lakota - 1903-1976
    White people always act like Natives were nothing until they came here. They say, now you live in houses with electricity and running water. They act as though we didn’t exist until they discovered us. Why does American history start with the discovery of this land when really it begins much further back than that? If one simply reads every tribe’s stories that are now written down, a composite history of this Turtle Island can be discovered and understood. However, since the stories are not regarded as truth and looked at more as amusing folktales or myths, their meanings are cast aside and laughed at. Really, we should read some of these stories and uncover the truth and meaning for them. Most of the time, these stories contain hard lessons learned.
    For example, in my tribe’s Coyote stories, Coyote isn’t exactly good or bad. He is like us, a little bit of both. He struggles with the same things people struggle with and that is to listen or to find out the hard way why someone tells us not to do something. The whole point of the story is that Coyote usually uses his medicine in some way and he learns enough to save the world. Isn’t that what we as people do every day? We make mistakes for the sheer purpose of learning from our mistakes in the hopes that we never make the same mistake twice. Wow, now how come it seems like people don’t do that anymore? Why is it that when I read about people going to court, it is the same people doing the same things? I don’t get it. The whole point of messing up is to learn from it.
    Now, I think that Native people have acted like Coyote long enough, as we drink beer, abuse drugs, and make mistakes. I think that our generation and the generation before us have suffered enough, made enough mistakes, and raised enough hell. It is time to quit. It is time to fulfill our potential and to regain our purpose in this world and that is to take care of this Earth. Our land will remain no more if we continue to sit around and drink beer. We must take action now. We must teach our children the importance of taking care of the land now. We need to realize that it isn’t about us anymore; it is about the children. What are they supposed to do when the Earth and land are so wrought with destruction that survival isn’t a possibility? We also need to realize that it is up to each individual to take the responsibility for one’s own actions and to try to learn something from each experience. We can’t dwell on the past, because it can never change. We must look toward the future and change what is possible. Think about every thing you have gone through, the good and the bad. Without those painful and hard experiences, we wouldn’t be as strong as we are. Our ancestors went through a lot, sacrificed everything, and it was all so that we could be alive. However, I don’t think our ancestors would be proud of how we are living today. If they could see us today, it would most likely seem to them that their teachings have become lost upon some of us. The strength that we have inside of us isn’t being used in a good way. We are abusing our power. We are abusing substances because we think it gives us a power that we already have inside and it is doing us no good.
    However, the whole point of the Sacred Hoop is that it isn’t just Native people who suffer from substance abuse. This epidemic is worldwide. People from every corner of the world struggle with this problem. The purpose of the Sacred Hoop is to use the power of prayer to transcend consciousness and raise awareness of the problem at hand. Every person that suffers from substance abuse needs those prayers to help them. If you know someone that is hurting and there is nothing else to do about it because you feel you’ve tried everything, pray for that person. Sometimes, a prayer may do more than you ever could because you are placing that thought into a higher power’s hands and that higher power is the only power that may have the power to help you and the person you pray for.

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