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Guest Post: Supporting Recovery in the Native American Community

In honor of Recovery Month, we've invited Don Coyhis, President and co-founder of White Bison, to share his perspective on recovery in Native American communities.

Note: This is a guest blog post from Don Coyhis, President and co-founder of White Bison.

At White Bison, our goal is to bring 100 Native American communities in healing and recovery plays a large role in this mission.   All of our programs, trainings, and resources are based on the principles, values, and laws found in the Teachings of the Native American Elders and of the 12 Step program. Through my work at White Bison, I’ve learned a lot about addiction and recovery in Native American communities.  In honor of recovery month, I’d like to share some of what I have come to believe and understand over the more than 20 years since we founded White Bison.

I have come to believe:

  • Alcoholism, substance abuse, domestic, and sexual violence are symptoms of a deeper hurt in our communities;
  • Alcohol and drugs are destroying our communities, but we want to recover; and
  • Returning to our Native American culture is the key to our recovery.

I also understand that:

In order to heal, we need to understand and implement the Four Laws of Change in our lives:

  1. Change must come from within: Healing begins with a desire for wholeness and integrity within oneself. It cannot be initiated by external forces.
  2. In order for development to occur, it must be preceded by a vision: When individuals and communities lose their way in addiction and disease, a vision of what could be, of who they truly are, or of the pathway to take is required for transformation to take place.
  3. A great learning must take place in our communities: Addiction is fostered by a lack of awareness of the need for healing in the community. This must be overcome by opening the community’s eyes to the need of the community and its members for healing and to the vision of the community as a healing force.
  4. We must create a healing forest: This means that the entire community needs to be part of the process of healing from alcohol and drug problems. The community itself must recover in order to support its members who themselves are recovering. Our image for this is of an ailing tree that is removed from a diseased forest, nurtured back to health, and then replanted in the forest. Unless we bring health to the forest itself, the tree will become diseased once again through its association with the forest. If we create a healing forest, this trees will remain well and others will not become ill.

I’ve also come to believe in the concept of ‘Wellbriety.’ Wellbriety is not just about sobriety; it means seeking wellness in all aspects of our lives: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  On August 10th, I entered my 34th year of Wellbriety. I proudly stand among thousands of my Native American brothers and sisters who are in recovery. We are returning to the ways of our ancestors. We are learning from our elders, so we may grow and change. We do these things consciously, so that our babies will grow up to be proud, sober Native American adults and elders. Aho.

Don Coyhis is President and co-founder of White Bison, Inc.