American Indians and Recovery
• November 2021 •
The pilgrim story retold every Thanksgiving typically reduces American Indians to a bit part in our nation’s history. The indigenours people of the United States are much more — their story is one of persecution and resilience. American Indians were targeted from the time Europeans first set foot on American soil, hungry for resource-rich Indian land. Through the years, our government authorized over 1,500 wars, attacks and raids on Indians, including genocide, removal, assaults on language and culture, and mandatory boarding schools for youth.
More than 570 federally-recognized tribes reside in the U.S. and these people are survivors, despite the odds. A unique and ancient culture, American Indians continue to face challenges today. Specifically, social isolation, poverty, lack of healthcare, and limited recovery-based services are contributing to higher rates of substance abuse, addiction and alcoholism in American Indian people. Here are some of the facts:
- American Indians make up 1% of the U.S. population, but comprise 2.5% of people in behavioral health treatment;
- Nearly 25% of American Indians report binge drinking in the past month;
- American Indians are more likely to report drug abuse in the past month than any other ethnic group;
- American Indians are 82% more likely to die of suicide than other races;
- Roughly 30% of American Indians live below poverty level; and
- American Indian life expectency is 5.5 years less than other races.
American Indians are more likely to need behavioral healthcare than persons of any other ethnic group. And treatment means culturally-responsive care that addresses cultural perspectives and historical trauma.
Some of the practices being incorporated into behavioral health treatment for American Indians are meditation using smudging (burning sage, cedar and sweetgrass), relearning native songs sung during dances that convey stories of ancestor hardships and victories, Talking Circles where participants sit in a circle, listen deeply, and speak in turn from the heart, and Sweat Lodge purification ceremonies that represent the womb of Mother Earth — a sacred place to ask for healing, forgiveness, hope, vision, to give thanks, or anything else participants need during their journey of change.
See how: One tribe uses culture to fight addiction