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Lakota Culture and Spirituality as a Path to Recovery

Spirituality is the lifeblood of every Native American’s life, tying the disparate elements of the world together into an interwoven fabric that connects the natural world to the world of the heavens. The Lakota, in particular, believe that there is a spirit alive in every natural being, from humans to rocks to trees to rivers.

The concept of all harmony and balance being fitted into a Medicine Wheel is one that links the self and the community with the cosmos, finding hope and meaning within the comforting family of the circle.

Addiction to alcohol, however, has caused a condition that Native Americans refer to as the “broken circle.” When the circle is broken, the ancient teachings are being ignored. Harmony is not achieved, as the world, where drugs and emptiness reign supreme, is out of balance.

A ten-week program centered around Lakota culture and traditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, however, has helped inmates fix their circle and move on to an empowering life free of drugs and alcohol.

The class incorporates traditional tribal teachings and practices into the healing process and allows the individuals to “find within themselves who they are as Lakota people to get that strength back again,” according to director Chissie Spencer.

The program has done more than refocus the inmates’ consciousness away from drugs and alcohol – it has returned them to an identity they felt like they had lost. And it has had incredible results, with only 15% of graduates returning to jail as opposed to the 67% that end up back in jail nationally.

The prairie-covered Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, site of the 189 Wounded Knee Massacre, remains one of the poorest counties in America, and one of the most heavily affected by the epidemic of substance use disorder.

The class cuts through layers of generational trauma and gets to the heart of addiction, what causes it, and how one can move forward in a healthier way while connecting to the past. It seeks to mend the broken circle through a three-pronged process: the Sweat Lodge, the Red Road, and the Recovery Medicine Wheel.

The Sweat Lodge is a traditional ceremony that reminds the individual of their connectivity to every living entity and takes place in total darkness, representing a return to the womb and a rebirth of their spirituality. The Red Road seeks to repair the four realms of the Medicine Wheel – the mental, the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual – through a path towards purity. The third element of the recovery process is the Recovery Medicine Wheel, a 12-step approach to sobriety that, unlike the 12 steps of AA, has no beginning and no end but is an ongoing reminder of connecting to the source of human existence for guidance moving forward.

Lakota traditions focus on strength as the way out of dire circumstances and hail from the tradition that every person is made up of the body, spirit, and a purpose, or destiny. Their ancient medicine men cared for both the physically ill and emotionally upset, implemented song and dance accompanied by a variety of herbs, roots, and leaves, and practiced detoxifying purification rituals to cleanse the body and spirit.

Some clinicians have begun to adopt native healing practices as a more holistic form of treatment that not only promotes health and well-being but also connects one to the physical land. An AA program may be relevant for tribal members who are well-assimilated into the dominant culture, but this may clashes with Lakota culture in that the Lakota believe in the sanctity and power of words. If a person says that he or she is an alcoholic, then he or she is and will be, an alcoholic.

Recovery for Lakota people also includes the Seven Sacred Rites, which are:

  • Keeping of the Soul
  • Purification
  • Vision Quest
  • Sun Dance
  • Making of the Relatives
  • Womanhood
  • Throwing of the Ball

Reminding oneself of cultural roots and beginnings can be a fascinating step in rediscovering who you are. Traditionally, native diets, harvest ceremonies, and the use of native herbs and plants have been used to contribute to the health and well being of native communities.

Younger generations have largely abandoned these traditions while experiencing an uptick in diabetes and other forms of poor health. Others, however, are learning to connect with these healthy life alterations inspired by the Lakota, including running each day at dawn, taking time with ceremony and prayer, and telling stories that reinforce positive behaviors and warn about going up against the laws of nature.

Finding new ways to identify with one’s cultural, religious, and spiritual practices can be rewarding ways to cope with health problems. Getting in touch with symbols and relating them to bigger themes in one’s life can empower you to see more clearly while vibrating at a higher frequency.

At Ethos Structured Sober Living, house members attend nightly dinners together and meet weekly to discuss issues as a community. We encourage creating an environment that promotes cohesive unity, accountability, and brotherhood between our community members that enables them to find the power and meaning in their lives.

Contact us today at (323) 942-9996 for more information to schedule a tour.