Dee LeBeau-Hein, founder of Swiftbird Consulting and a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, has worked in addiction for more than 20 years and provides consulting work for state, federal, and tribal programs in behavioral health, addiction, mental health, and Native American cultural awareness training. Her company offers a three-day training and webinars on cultural awareness of the area tribes in the Great Plains for state and local programs, which includes culture, customs and norms, along with understanding generational and historical trauma.
“They started seeing a correlation between similar assimilation and atrocities that happened to the Native American population in the early colonial period when Europeans came to America and started pushing their way west and our people were being exterminated,” she said. “Eventually we were put on reservations and forced to abide by European culture. Assimilation and cultural genocide all play a part in the historical and generational trauma.”
LeBeau-Hein states that addiction is a symptom of something more significant and is a way of coping with some of the traumatic events that happened in peoples’ lives, like sexual assault, abuse, neglect, low self-esteem, and more. The removal of ceremonial practices and assimilation resulted in significant, deep trauma for Native American tribes. When the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 was passed, the damage had already been done.
“Our people were dealing with various levels of trauma, sexual abuse happening by the government agents, and by priests and nuns in the boarding schools,” LeBeau-Hein said. “The men, their role as providers and protectors for our people, that was taken away when we were put on reservations. They were no longer able to go out and hunt, to provide for our people. Everything was brought in and they lost their way, some of our men lost their way.”
When alcohol was introduced to them, many people became alcoholics and it was used to cope with some of the events. These coping mechanisms, loss of traditional culture, and assimilation led to Native American homelessness becoming a national issue.
“A lot of our people have lost their way in where they belong,” she said. Some feel like they don’t belong on the reservation or in a city, so they’re adrift. Some find a way out, and they strive to honor and respect and encourage the homeless population and chronic users to find their way to recovery.
LeBeau-Hein states that the mental health field now isn’t culturally sensitive or relevant to the Native American culture, but it’s growing in its awareness.
Read more at RapidCityJournal.com.