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Savage Restlessness

IMG_0799Not knowing, precisely, seems to be at the root of this feeling that has taken down the strongest among us – restlessness. I’ve known this feeling all too well…First, growing up with an addict. Then, becoming an addict myself. Finally, hearing stories of my grandfather and watching my father, all addicts. I wish there were a nice way to say this, addiction is not a pretty word, it seems to be relatively broad, but also nicely represents a state of being – without rest. Restless. Discontent. Chaos. The question, however, is whether any Indian really feels at rest. I mean, how does one learn equilibrium after generations of oppression fed with generations of abuse and dependence (substances, food, co-dependency, (neo)colonialism, trauma, violence, marginalization, disenfranchisement, inequity, racism, as well as other -isms)?
Of course, I sit here because I feel restless tonight. First, smudge (set the mood/intention), turn on the computer and start some “World” music (iTunes category for rounddance and powwow music). I find myself here in an attempt to ground myself. One week separated from a Sundance, I am supposed to be starting this year off in some super sacred, or “Wakan” form. Yet, I sit with my thoughts taking me in directions where anything but good was ever born from.

Lately, my restlessness has me thinking that it’s a call to turn maladaptive patterns into healthy, or at least more adaptive behaviors (let’s call it an opportunity or even a warning). What I find is that the restlessness hits when I am alone, when Netflix has burned my eyeballs. Then, it starts to call – literally. In the past, maybe we smoked weed, got drunk, distracted with video games, sex, etc. This feeling, restlessness, was always connected to some shit that fucked something up.

When I was a child, I remember the pacing I would watch from my mom. This was typically a signal that I would go without her for some time. Sometimes I enjoyed my time alone, watching late night HBO, ordering pizza as a 9-year old. Other times, I recall being stashed in the back seat of an old Buick, trying to figure out a way to conserve my Pepsi and beef jerky, and etching the lines in the backseat, wondering how long we were going to be parked here, and what she was doing.  Admittedly, I was safe many of the times, except when there was a man involved, as there usually was (This is for another story).

As an adult, I recall feeling as though I am not enough, somehow lacking, which was a catalyst for the chase. The HUNGER. The consumption. Ultimately, the wreckage that might make things all too painful…

More often than not, I’ll just go to sleep. But there have been many times where I have acted on this restlessness, which often happens with a garnish or impulsiveness, that ends in some measure of recklessness. Upon review, the recipe always starts with restlessness – I can imagine if Indians were somehow forcibly endowed with a certain behavioral repertoire, like commodities, this is what it would look like (or better yet, this is what it would taste like – the morning after of hangover and a stranger’s spit). Looking back, I can remember the complete neglect of introspection and responsibility, only to listen to the unquenchable hedonism that is all too overwhelming. Now, this is something I pray for, better judgment and decision-making, but constantly afraid of my ability to fucking destroy shit. Wondering – hopelessly, if I can avoid the dreaded question, “how the hell did this happen?”. Sometimes I remember, this is what I was taught, this is what I watched. My world was restless/chaotic, this is what I know, and at some point maybe I even identified with this. My Indianness was colored in war paint of restlessness, that savage shit. Like I had been chained by the shackles of space and time. If only the warpath was honorable, I’d be a great warrior.


Today, perhaps more than ever, we see an incredible proliferation of non-Western healing methodologies in the collective American socio-economic context. Many, including myself, might reference many of these attempts to prescribe healing pathways that are foreign to the “American body politic” as appropriation. Though, beyond this, and even more perplexing, if not ironic, is the fact that health systems are based on evidence-based practices – and it is not until a practice is appropriated into our positivist Western culture, that it is widely accepted, typically by way of publication in peer-reviewed journals. What we don’t know, however, will not kill us, it may make us stronger as a collective. Certainly, in my mind, this is the case of culture and healing for co-occurring disorders among American Indian and Alaska Native youth.

Despite not engaging in clinical trials, practice-based evidence and culturally appropriate services are oft cited as the critical tool and metric to which these debilitating co-occurring presentations require for any relief. In this case, traditional practices, cultural and tribal customs are understood to be the arbiter of health and healing in AI/AN communities. Unfortunately, however, the main actors (i.e., Indian Health Service) and federal regulations, as well as the movement of Evidence-based practice serves to only stifle the efforts of tribal and Indigenous communities to serve their communities, according to tradition and origin of their original teachings.

Right now, AI/AN communities are in the midst of a mental health crisis. Not only are AI/AN among the poorest, least educated and youngest of other U.S. races, they also suffer from disproportionate rates of substance misuse/abuse, suicide, depression, unintentional injury, domestic/interpersonal violence, etc.


Such circumstances within AI/AN communities are the result of generations of oppression steeped in a history of discrimination and genocide. The fate of young AI/AN people are in the hands of culture and tradition that breathe in embers, once a spirited fire that warmed each of the 567+ “Federally Recognized” nations. Many understand the co-occurring illnesses to be symptoms of colonization. Without acknowledging the sovereignty of our First Americans to practice their beliefs and own their healing, at any cost to American Society, the children may continue to be lost.

For this reason, it is important to allow space and rights for Indigenous people to practice customs, according to their traditional teachings in federal spaces, especially those spaces that are dedicated, by treaty and law, to the healing and wellness of AIAN people.


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