March 31st, 2018
As we travel from reservation to reservation, people speak to us. Their stories are often very similar, especially with regards to drug abuse and domestic violence. Families are torn apart by these problems. Likewise, entire communities are decimated. These issues don’t affect any specific demographic. Although our focus is primarily on the Native Americans, other groups are also in crisis. These troubles are everywhere.
I talked to a man last night after we ate supper. He made a point of telling me that the statistics showed that the reservations were more severely affected by drugs and violence than the society at large. I wonder why that is. Why would Indians be more susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse than other people?
I suspect that the answer to that question is complex, and it involves a number of variables. I have heard Native Americans place some of the blame on “historical trauma”, a kind of racial PTSD. Centuries of cultural and literal genocide have shaped Indian society. Economics must play a role. There may be genetic factors involved. I don’t know. I’m not sure that anybody knows.
A more pertinent question is what do the Native Americans (and the rest of American society) do to solve the problems. Education? Every rez I’ve seen has signs and posters about these issues. The children are taught about the dangers of drugs and about domestic violence. Enforcement? Can the police stop the flow of drugs? The war of drugs has not been a rousing success nationwide; why would it work any better on the reservations? The standard tools for dealing with drugs and violence do not seem to be enough.
Treatment and rehabilitation are particular concerns for the people we have met. The needs are great and the resources are limited. One reason for our walk to collect data on the crises in order to convince the federal government to keep the resources flowing to the reservations. Many abusers, at some point, want to change and get healthy. The fear is that Native American people won’t have necessary help available to them when they are ready to recover.
I have heard some of the Native Americans talk about getting the people back to their roots. These folks want to bring back the native languages and customs. There seems to be an identity crisis of sorts among some of the Indians. How could there not be? They want to maintain or revive the old ways, but they have to function in a larger culture that worships technology and material wealth. Going back to traditional values might be the answer, but how do the Native Americans get there? How does anybody get there?
People need a sense of purpose. Their lives need meaning. The confrontation between indigenous peoples and the power of the corporate state at Standing Rock has electrified some of these communities. Even though Standing Rock was not successful in the short term, that event has made many Native Americans aware of their power and potential. If a person knows that they can and must stand up for what is right, will they do drugs? If a person feels responsible for their people’s future, will they engage in violence against their own flesh and blood?
The man who spoke with me last night kept repeating that we have to keep trying. We cannot give up. We can’t give in. If one thing doesn’t work, then we try another tactic. He was adamant that we keep working to help our families, specially our children.