Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Valuing Indigenous Knowledge

I just finished David Grann’s book, The Lost City of Z.  Grann tells the legendary story of British explorer Percy Fawcett’s ventures into the Amazon jungle. The last time I wrote a book review was in an undergraduate course, so I can’t recall if a review is supposed to give away the ending but Fawcett never returned from an expedition resulting in a long list of explorers trying to solve the mystery of Fawcett’s last trip into the Amazon.

The book is worth reading. It provides a very detailed account of Percy and his expeditions into the Amazon. The amazing thing about Percy was his ability to enter a very dangerous environment, for several months at a time, and survive. There were many who entered the Amazon only to be consumed by it. The main goal of Percy was to discover, what he believed to have existed, a lost city “Z” that was thought to be a thriving, sustainable community deep within the jungle. His pursuit and obsession of finding the lost city of Z ultimately took his life, his son’s, and others who traveled with that group.

While the book is an adventurous read, drawing the reader into the life of Fawcett and the experiences of being in the Amazon jungle, the most interesting parts for me were the times when explorers came into contact with the Amazon’s indigenous (Indian) populations. The author does give some positive opinion on 20th century attitudes towards these indigenous folks; however, the attitudes towards Amazon Indians during Fawcett’s time were associated with them being “savages.” These were not the times to value Indigenous Knowledge.

The Amazon Jungle is in a Bad Part of Town

The Amazon is unforgiving. Fawcett states that the “the logic of the jungle dictates” every action of the explorers. According to Fawcett, all aspects of the jungle, weather, landscape, animals, etc, “is against man as it is nowhere else in the world.” For instance, the sauba ants can reduce men’s clothes and rucksacks to threads in a single night. Ticks attach like leeches. Red hairy chiggers consume human flesh. Parasitic worms cause blindness. “Kissing bugs” bite on the lips transferring Trypanosoma cruzi which twenty years later cause death by heart or brain swelling. And the mosquitoes transmit all kinds of deadly problems like yellow fever or malaria. There is a frog in the Amazon that has enough toxins to kill a hundred people.

An experienced explorer with Fawcett brushed up against a plant resulting in his finger nail falling off as if it had been “ripped off with pliers.” He later developed uncontrollable diarrhea. He woke up with worm like creatures in his knee and arm. They turned out to be maggots growing inside his body. According to his colleagues, he smelled like a “rotting corpse.”

These were the typical experiences of the Europeans who choose to visit the jungle. When they crossed paths with the indigenous people, the explorers labeled them as savages. All indigenous people were regarded as less than human. One of the Holy Roman Emperor’s chaplains, Juan Gines de Sepulveda, argued that “Indians were half men who should be treated as natural slaves” and that “the Spanish have a perfect right to rule these barbarians.” The common attitude toward the indigenous of the Amazon was that they were not descended from Adam and Eve, inferior non-humans who could be wiped from the face of the earth without being much missed.

I wonder how these savages could have ever survived in the cruel, unforgiving environment of the jungle. How could the relatives of Adam and Eve suffer and die in a place where savages lived? Fawcett believed “they had developed an array of medicinal herbs and unorthodox treatment to protect themselves against the daily assault of the jungle.” Fawcett tells of seeing one of the “savages” remove the maggots from under the skin, which was the same kind that had been torturing one of his men, by making “a curious whistling noise with their tongues, and at once the grub’s head would issue from the blowhole.” The “Indian would give the sore a quick squeeze, and the invader was ejected.”

Fawcett reported that he “sucked, whistled, protested, and even played the flute to mine, with absolutely no effect.” He considered these “assortment of herbal cures, as marvel,” while Western doctors who traveled along considered such methods “witchcraft.” Fawcett reported that “it seems as though every disorder has its appropriate nature-cure.” He continued, “Of course, the medical profession does not encourage people to make use of them. Yet the cures they effect are often remarkable, and I speak as one who has tried several with complete success.”

Fawcett’s experiences and reports were in the early 1900’s. Every disorder has its appropriate nature-cure! He is experiencing and explaining life-saving Indigenous Knowledge. Real world, real time knowledge! Would you let a savage treat your life threatening disorder? How desperate would you have to be to place your life into the hands of an uncivilized, non-human?

Appropriate Nature-Cure

This Indigenous Knowledge base still exists today. There are still appropriate nature cures for every disorder. There are people who have this knowledge doing amazing things every day. There is also a belief that our culture is beginning to turn around headed back toward these ideals of nature cures and away from the westernized trainings. 

Current Writers on Indigenous Knowledge

In the upcoming year, posts will be submitted from current folks who are and have been working toward educating our communities on the values of Indigenous Knowledge. There will be a wide sample of writers with various topics on this important subject. It is very important to discuss and educate the public about current Indigenous Knowledge and how it applies in today’s world. I will be previewing upcoming writers as they get close to contributing their work. This will be an exciting opportunity to present and learn about their important ideas regarding Indigenous Knowledge. If you are interested in submitting something, please let me know.

Peace, DAP

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Case Study in Research Integrity, Mentoring, and Slander

A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.
Mark Twain

Research Integrity

In July of this year I had the opportunity to attend the 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity in Singapore. Part of the reason for holding this conference is the increasing amount of scientific misbehaviors. It was very interesting to hear researchers from many different universities around the world discuss the issues related to scientific misconducts and the lack of ethical standards.

It seems the pressures that come with trying to develop a research career can overtake the honest intentions of researchers. While the specific classification of misconduct varies between universities and other institutions, common labels of scientific misconduct consist of fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing or performing research.

In Martinson, Anderson & de Vries’ article published in Nature, 435, 737-738 (9 June 2005) | doi:10.1038/435737a; titled, Scientists Behaving Badly, they report that scientific misconduct is very common in the U.S. In a survey completed by 3,600 mid-career and 4,160 early-career NIH researchers, 38% of mid-career scientists and 28% of early-career scientists admitted “sanctionable misbehaviors” in their prior three years during NIH funded research activities. Wow…around 1/3 of researchers putting their careers and reputations in jeopardy!

I can understand and appreciate the pressures of designing, being awarded and carrying out research studies. From research concept to being awarded can take a couple years or more. To date, I have been involved with about $6 million in state and federal research grants. And there are a lot of failed attempts along the way. The significant factor associated with being awarded these grants has been the grant writing team and mentorship provided by senior researchers who were willing to invest their time and expertise. Being successful at grant writing and scientific research requires working with partners who have a track record of successful research as well as a reputation of being honest with high integrity traits.  There is no such thing as a lone grant writer or researcher. It takes teamwork to be successful at both!


I greatly appreciate the risks taken by research mentors. After hearing experiences from colleagues who are working with early-career researchers, it is risky work. For instance, I heard a story from a friend who is a researcher and who tries to mentor early-career researchers. This is his story. Some information within attached documents have been removed.

Daniel Parkerson a professor and researcher with a university agreed to work with a new PhD graduate, Robert Haring who was very eager and energetic to become a funded researcher. RH had an idea about a research project but said the idea had been rejected for various reasons. For instance, RH proposed the idea as a dissertation study but was rejected by his committee. RH was very passionate about his research idea because it resulted from personal experiences. RH worked for a company that needed to hire a few “extras” for a film documentary. After working there a few days, RH believed he and the other extras were mistreated. RH wanted to investigate whether other extras had similar experiences working in the film industry. So, Daniel agreed to work with RH’s idea. Because it never gained any interest anywhere prior, Daniel informed RH that the plan and project had to be significantly reworked.

RH was given a volunteer title with the university and there were some internal university grant funds available. The university’s policy required that employed academic personnel be listed as the Principal Investigator (PI) on any grants.  The responsibilities of the PI are to lead the project to its successful conclusion overseeing all aspects of the study (e.g., budget issues, human subjects’ protections, research rigor, etc). It is unrealistic to expect a new PhD graduate like RH, with no past research experience, to have the expertise to ensure a successful research outcome. Although the policy was new information for RH, he said he understood why the university is reluctant to award money to new university volunteers.

Daniel took RH’s idea and started from scratch, redesigning the plan and overall research project. Although RH’s idea remained (Are extras treated differently in the workplace than other workers?), all other aspects were re-worked. After working with other scientists and taking their advice on editing and other scientific adjustments, the grant proposal was submitted and finally awarded. According to Daniel this grant was a typical team effort where many people were involved and very helpful. In fact, everyone’s work and input was the significant factor for it being awarded!

Senior researchers provided vital directions to the study’s design and research protocols. Without everyone’s help, RH’s research idea would have remained just that -- an idea -- not worthy of studying. This was a 1-year funded study. As with all or most research grants it was submitted and approved by the university’s IRB in order to protect the human subjects involved in the research.

So…back to the point about research integrity issues and the risks of mentoring early-career researchers. Before the study began RH submitted the grant’s information to a professional research conference in order to present it and discuss its findings. Now…there are some scientific misconduct issues involved with this act. First, RH did not inform any of the senior researchers or mentors, who were also involved with this study, about submitting and presenting this study to a professional research conference. Second, RH’s name was the only name listed for the presentation, indicating that the research study was solely RH’s work. Third, the presentation was copied word-for-word (except one key word change) from the grant application that the team of researchers helped create. Finally, the presentation was presented as though the study had been completed, when in fact the study had not yet begun.

(Click Bold words to view Documents: IRB approval date was May 21, 2008. RH's Conference presentation dates were May 14-17, 2008. Haring presented the study’s results a few days before the study was approved to start! The one word RH changed in the conference abstract from the grant submission is in the sentence “The overall purpose of this research project was to qualitatively investigate…” That one word change from “is” to “was” indicated that the study had been completed and deceived the conference reviewers who accepted RH’s submission).

After learning about this misbehavior, Daniel thought he would use it as a teaching moment. Daniel decided to discuss with RH the importance of research integrity and appropriate ways of working with research grant writing teams. In the research academic world, RH’s actions would clearly fall under scientific misconduct. For instance, copying text word-for-word that was created by others and presenting it as RH’s own work, is an act of plagiarism and falsification. Presenting a research study as though it has been completed, when in fact it had not begun, has misconduct concerns and IRB implications. On top of all the scientific misconduct acts and other issues, RH’s behaviors also result in burning some bridges with colleagues and universities. If you want to have longevity in the academic research field it is not smart to have the reputation of using others work as your own and taking credit where it is not due. You might end up having to be affiliated with a university outside your own community or state, where your reputation has not yet arrived!

Daniel setup a meeting and tried to provide some mentorship and teachings to RH. Daniel also provided RH with a formal written warning letter. Boy…did that mentoring attempt ever backfire!  


Soon after the meeting, RH concluded that all of the materials connected with the study were his sole property and that he owned everything connected with this study.  Although many senior academic researchers worked hard to get that study to a point where it became something worthy of funding, which it was not until these researchers worked on it, according to RH, everything belonged to him because he had the original “idea.” RH quickly resigned his affiliation with the university and reported that Daniel and the university stole his property and knowledge! RH emailed several of his friends, stating the Daniel and the university are frauds and thieves! You know what they say…a good defense is to go on the offensive!

Daniel now appreciates the risks of working with junior scientists when it comes to issues of dealing with academic research integrity behaviors. Daniel finds himself placed in a difficult position. Now that RH is not connected with Daniel or the university (other than RH’s regular slanderous emails) does Daniel just move forward hoping a lesson was learned and no more misconducts will happen? Or does Daniel go forward with submitting documents to the most appropriate investigative institution before anymore misconducts can happen? It would seem the best way to clear up all of RH’s allegations (e.g., Daniel and the university stole property and knowledge) is to have the most appropriate folks investigate the issue and report the results to all concerned. Daniel and the university has kept very good records.

According to Nicholas Steneck, Emeritus Professor of history at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and co-organizer of the World Conference on Research Integrity, "Integrity of research is everyone's responsibility. If you see something that you don't think is right, all professionals have a responsibility to raise their concerns." As a research professional, Daniel feels obligated and responsible to raise concerns to those who are most knowledgeable and assigned to investigate these matters. If and when Daniel pursues these matters it should be with the most appropriate institution -- not using RH’s approach of emailing community people, who have no knowledge about these subject matters.  

Professionals, regardless if they are researchers, social workers, or nurses will have to deal with misconducts in the workplace. These ethical matters are always the most challenging to confront. Workers are regularly faced with ethical issues that touch on both professional and personal standards.

What would you do? Would you “move on” knowing that Haring can freely make accusations against your workplace and you in an attempt to hide his own misconducts? Do you worry that RH might do some of the same acts towards others? Would your option be altered knowing that RH is currently affiliated with another out of state university and is working with them on another small grant? What would you tell Daniel to do?

Peace, DAP

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Teaching of the Bear and the Two Travelers

Two men were walking together, when a Bear suddenly met them on their path. One of them quickly climbed up into a tree and concealed himself in the thick branches. The other, seeing that he would soon be attacked, fell flat on the ground. The Bear came up and felt him with his snout, and smelt him all over. The man remained still, held his breath, and battled the thoughts of death as much as he could. The Bear soon left him, for it is believed bears will not touch a dead body. When the bear was finally out of sight, the other Traveler descended from the tree, and lightheartedly inquired of his friend what it was the Bear had whispered in his ear. "He gave me very good advice," his companion replied. "Never travel with a friend who abandons you at the approach of danger."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Can Studying Abroad Help Keep Native American Students in College?

There will always be some students who enroll in college who sooner or later drop out before graduating. A number of reasons may account for these drop outs, such as, the inability to continue meeting the financial burdens of higher education, important family matters become a priority, or the thought that college is not for everyone. Although there are some very good and logical reasons to discontinue seeking a college degree, some barriers can be successfully removed. It is extremely important to remove the barriers in the way of obtaining a college degree for anyone who seeks it, specifically Native Americans, who have the highest rates of drop from high school and college.

While there are differences between retention rates in higher education for all student populations, related to demographics, the gap is paramount among African American, Hispanic, or Native American students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002). According to Brown and Robinson Kurpius, (1997) 75 percent to 93 percent of Native Americans drop out of college prior to completion. The fact is, Native Americans, if they do get a high school diploma and begin attending college, have to the highest rate of drop from college than any other student.

There has been some studies looking at why Native students drop out and what to do about it, like here, here and here, just to identify a few of many.

A recent study looked at the impact of studying abroad has on student outcomes. Students, as part of their credit earning studies, can participate in a program that allows them to travel to another country in order to study a specific topic. Most of the cost is built into regular tuition that is already paid by the student. Any additional cost could be related to flights, food, or sometimes housing.

American universities and colleges have long been aware of the positive impact study abroad programs have on their students. According to McKeown (2009) those students who experience the opportunities presented in studying abroad results in intellectual gains, new global and cultural awareness’s, and personal development. A study conducted by the International Education of Students concluded that students who studied abroad experienced life changing events that have carried forward into later life.

In 2000, researchers with the GLOSSARI project started a large-scale effort to document the academic outcomes of studying abroad programs across the 35-institution University System of Georgia. Some ten years later, they discovered that “students who study abroad have improved academic performance upon returning to their home campus, higher graduation rates, and improved knowledge of cultural practices and context compared to students in control groups” (citation). It was also revealed that studying abroad helps, rather than hinders, academic performance of at-risk students, such as Native Americans.

According to a GLOSSARI associate it has always been the usual perception that students who are at risk of dropping out of college should be discouraged from studying abroad. However, this study finds that studying abroad can actually be an intervention to improve retention rates for college students. Studying abroad does not derail their educational efforts; rather, it actually focuses their scholarly works (cited).

If it is the case that studying abroad has a positive impact on students, like increasing the likelihood that Native Americans will remain in college and graduate, then by all means these studying abroad programs should be encouraged and made possible. Part of the Wolf-Fire Scholarship, long-term efforts is to financially assist students to study abroad. Helping to offset the cost of these studying abroad experiences will hopefully address the issues around Native American students dropping out of college, specifically UB.

Peace, DAP

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Teaching of the Porcupine

Many moons ago the Porcupine’s land suffered from the coldest winter ever. As the bitter cold continued many of the animals perished. The porcupines, realizing the dire situation, decided to group together. This way, they covered and protected themselves. Even though they gave off heat to each other, one of the consequences of coming together was that their quills wounded their closest companions.

After awhile, they decided to distance themselves and they began to die, alone and frozen. So, they had to make a choice, either accept the quills of their companions or disappear from the Earth.

Wisely, they decided to come back together.  This way they learned to live with the little wounds that were caused by the close relationship with their companion. But the most important part, was the life saving heat. This way they were able to survive.

The best relationship is not the one that brings together perfect people; it is when each individual learns to live with the imperfections of others and can admire the other person's good qualities.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thank you and let the work begin!

With the help of Pete Hill and Michael Martin with Native American Community Services (NACS), health researchers and some of our community Elders, I was recently awarded a prestigious two year grant with the University of Washington’s Indigenous Wellness Research Institute (IWRI).

The Fellowship Award

The Indigenous HIV/AIDS Research Training (IHART) program is housed within University of Washington’s Indigenous Wellness Research Institute and is an innovative research training program for Indigenous and other underrepresented ethnic minority scholars. The IHART program aims to develop a network of scholars dedicated to culturally grounded research that will contribute to ameliorating health disparities among American Indians/Alaska Natives. The fellowship provides $20,000 to fund a Native American focused HIV/AIDS and health-related disparities pilot study, $2,000 travel, along with mentorship, cultural and tribal consultation, editorial support for grants and articles, and on-site research conference and institute attendance.

Fellows will have the opportunity to work with and be mentored by some of the nation’s most respected researchers on the topic of Native American health. Karina Walters, PhD, Director of UW’s IWRI is one of the many mentors.  

The funds will be used to investigate a Native specific HIV intervention developed by Pete Hill and NACS. NACS have been providing health and cultural services to Native Americans throughout Western New York for 35 years. The intervention being studied is titled, Healing in Volumes©: A New Approach to HIV. The intervention focuses on historical trauma such as boarding schools and their impact on overall Native American health issues.

Why this research project is important in Native American communities

Programs that are interested in applying for HIV interventions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must choose from the CDC’s menu of HIV intervention options known as the Diffusion of Effective Behavioral Interventions (DEBI) project. Programs funded through the CDC have to select and follow the intervention(s) within DEBI hoping that it meets the needs of their clients. Unfortunately, there are no interventions in the DEBI menu for Native Americans.
Pete Hill and NACS have developed and begun introducing the idea of Healing in Volumes©:  A New Approach to HIV but need some assistance with developing and carrying out a scientific evaluation of their approach.

In the NACS Health & Wellness component, they recognize the importance of the Native concept of balance.  “Balance” teaches that certain behaviors have the potential to do “good” or “not good” for individuals and their community.  It is up to each individual to make their own decisions and behaviors for the health and wellness of the Seventh Generation to come. Risk factors for HIV in Native communities include misuse or abuse of alcohol, drug addiction, poverty, other STDs, teenage pregnancies, domestic violence, poor overall health status, sexual abuse, lack of access to quality services for health care, lack of transportation, availability of medications, incarceration, etc. and are a significant cause for concern.  Native people have many, if not most, of the risk factors and behaviors that are well known to increase the risk of HIV infection (see; Hawkins et al., 2004; Kramer, 1992; Office of Applied Studies. 2006). 

Rather than thinking about HIV only as a virus, NACS’s new approach goes beyond simply teaching someone how to use a condom properly. It seeks to look at how all of the events in history shape someone’s responses in their current and future lives.  According to Pete Hill and NACS, people can learn to have different choices, healthy lifestyles, and a meaningful life once they understand how their histories influence their thinking.  The new intervention looks at historical trauma issues which leads to high risk behaviors for HIV.  The long-term goal is to learn, or re-learn, how individuals can live in a good way.

This new approach to HIV—“Healing in Volumes”—can help make different decisions for individuals, their families, and generations that will follow.  “Healing” can have a lot of meanings for Native people.  First, as stated by Pete Hill, “Native people should be able to learn about the residential boarding schools and their impact on their people, languages, customs, and culture.”  Pete goes on to state that, “They should understand why so many abuses exist within their communities and what to do about it.”  According to the new approach, healing also means being able to forgive those in the past who have wronged Native Peoples. Native people do not have to continue to be harmful to each other or to themselves. We can live in a good, kind, loving way.

The term “In Volumes” refers to being able to learn as much as possible about Native history so that they can create a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities. Forgiveness may be a very difficult thing for Native people to do, and sometimes, there will never be an apology or an admission of guilt or responsibility by those who have wronged Native people.  Yet, forgiveness is very important to a human’s overall health. Forgiveness brings an understanding and acceptance of the past, holds people accountable for their actions today, and allows folks to move forward.  Natives can listen to the wisdom from their Elders and have a better understanding of how they can live their lives, especially in the age of HIV/AIDS.

So, the idea behind Pete Hill and NACS’s new plan, “Healing in Volumes©:  A New Approach to HIV” moves away from past thoughts of treating HIV/AIDS as a singular, disconnected issue of a current health behavior focus, and toward the idea of an overall (e.g., past, current and future) health and wellness approach. The problems associated with HIV/AIDS cannot be addressed separate from healing from other issues like, historical traumas.

Expectations from IHART Fellows

At the end of the two-year IHART fellowship program, Dr. Patterson, Pete Hill and NACS will have the needed materials and be prepared to submit a National Institute of Health R01 grant. This is an exciting and rewarding opportunity for UB, the School of Social Work, David Patterson, Pete Hill and Native American Community Services. The work being conducted will directly impact the health and wellness throughout Indigenous communities along with better educating professionals who are in positions to work with these communities. Peace, DAP

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A solution for Holiday Giving

Hello Friends, are you regretting the upcoming holiday where you have to worry about what to give people you really don’t care for, like that pain-in-the-ass nephew of yours? Do you hate having to act surprised and happy about the lousy gift you just opened from your 2nd cousin-in-law? Do you see yourself saying, “Oh wow…thank you. These scented candles will come in handy when you stink up my bath room later!” Do you hate the idea of participating in an event that seems more about greed and over-consumption rather than providing for the grateful needy?

Well my friends, I have a solution for you this season. You can let everyone know that this year you plan to participate in the Holiday Season by donating to the Wolf-Fire Scholarship in order to help students who are working in Native American communities. These UB students have decided to dedicate their scholarly work in an area that needs the passion, eagerness, and devotion that these students bring.

This year we have five UB students (4 Native & 1 Non-Native) who all have applied for Wolf-Fire at the maximum $500. They are each very deserving students who plan to do great acts in our Indigenous communities.

Please consider informing your people that you plan to redirect your Holiday funds to the Wolf-Fire Scholarship, and doing so in their honor. Let them know they can do the same. Those gifts will be received by deserving, very grateful students. And best of all, other than being tax deductable, it gets you out of having to find a gift for those unappreciative little step-Grandchildren, who mistreat your beloved animals and refer to you by your first name.

Please see the link below to find the Wolf-Fire Scholarship page for information and on-line donations.

Peace, DAP

Update on NACWR Blog Activities

I am happy, and a bit surprised, that since this blog started 3 weeks ago it has had over 230 visitors from the US, Japan, Canada, Italy, and the Netherlands. Traffic seems to come from Google, Facebook, UB and NACWR website.

I appreciate the growing interest and hope it will continue. I encourage anyone who wants to post something (e.g., opinions, research activities, practice issues, promotion of your work or company, etc) please email me at I also encourage you to become a follower of the blog and comment on posts.

Some upcoming posts will focus on Evidence-based practices, Research Integrity, Native American Research issues, as well as other health and wellness related topics. I look forward to seeing and supporting your involvement. Peace DAP

Monday, November 29, 2010

Alcohol Use Rates Lower than National Average...But...

I was looking through some data sponsored by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and came across this headline,

“New Study Shows that the Alcohol Use Rate Among American Indian or Alaska Native Adults is Well Below the National Average”

My first thoughts were, “Wow…finally some good news. Maybe prevention and treatment dollars targeted to Natives are finally showing some improvements.” It has constantly and consistently been reported that Natives mostly lead all rates of problematic alcohol and drug use. To read now that they are “well below the national average” of alcohol use rate is outstanding. Then, as I was brimming with excitement, I read the next, smaller, non-bolded headline underneath – it states,

But Native American or Alaska Native adults have a higher rate of binge drinking than the national average

Well, that great feeling was short lived! So what the heck is going on inside these data? Did they find that Natives have lower alcohol use rates overall but those who do drink are heavier drinkers, compared to others? The article indicates that…”A new national study reveals that the rate of past month alcohol use (i.e., at least one drink in the past 30 days) among American Indian or Alaska Native adults is significantly lower than the national average for adults (43.9 percent versus 55.2 percent).” Significantly lower past month alcohol use is very good news for this group.

Some Background

SAMHSA concerns itself with the substance use and mental health of the U.S. Every so often it conducts a nation wide health survey. Basically, someone calls folks living in the U.S. and asked a series of health-related questions. The main reason for this particular study was to look at the health of minority groups. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. population is made up of about one-third racial/ethnic minorities. The Census Bureau projects that by 2050 that rate will increase to about 54 percent being minority (A side note, while I have struggle through a few math and stats courses, I’m somewhat sure 54% is no longer considered as being in the minority). Understanding the health disparities among minority groups in the U.S. and addressing those disparities will be critical in the coming years. Allowing these well-known disparities to continue is inhuman and callous.

This SAMHSA study compared 2004 survey responses to 2008 responses looking for any differences among certain groups.  Along with the good news discussed above, the report goes on the state that “American Indian or Native Alaska adults have a rate of past month binge alcohol drinking (i.e., five or more drinks on the same occasion - on at least one day in the past 30 days) well above the national average (30.6 percent versus 24.5 percent).”

What I take away from this is while a lower percent of Natives (compared to the national average) have drank alcohol in the past month, those Natives who did drink, went on to drink more (compared to the national average).

Some other significant findings from this study:

  • The level of past month illicit drug use was also found to be higher among American Indian or Alaska Native adults than the overall adult population (11.2 percent versus 7.9 percent).
  • Eighteen percent of American Indian or Alaska Native adults needed treatment for an alcohol or illicit drug use problem in the past year, nearly twice the national average (9.6 percent).
  • 1 in 8 (12.6 percent) American Indian or Alaska Native adults who were in need of alcohol or illicit drug treatment in the past year received it at a specialty facility - about the same as the national average (10.4 percent).

While I appreciate SAMHSA headlining the one positive finding within this study – it makes me wonder why they would? I will not issue all of my theories now, but can’t help but wonder why this headline was picked when the overall story is so depressing? SAMHSA reports on its website that its mission is to “reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities.”  As it relates to Native communities, they seem to be falling short on pretty much all areas. You can read the complete article here,

A Final Thought

Let’s say SAMHSA’s mission was to reduce the rates of pool drowning in the U.S. and they reported on study comparing 2004 to 2008 drowning rates data. I wonder if they would put up a headline reading,

New Study Shows that Natives are Drowning in 10 Feet of Water which is Well Below the National Average of Drowning in 15 Feet of Water

But Natives have a higher rate of swimming in 12 feet deep pools than the national average

Peace, DAP

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Trying to Walk the Path My Grandpa Paved

I was still young when my Grandpa passed over. He raised five children, one of them my ma, on a farm in the hills of Kentucky. He came from a long lineage of Cherokee people who fled the Trail of Tears (“Hostiles” who refused to be marched to a reservation in Oklahoma). The Federal government labeled anyone who did not concede to their forces and walk to the Oklahoma reservation – Hostile! The feds do get some things right because I have some hostiles in my family. Fortunately, my grandpa was not a hostile man. And when he interacted with me, his goal was to ensure I would not become a hostile person either.

When I was a kid my family moved to a new neighborhood. Within a short time I met and was in love with a girl in that new neighborhood. Being about eight years old, I was convinced I would marry this beautiful young girl. Before I ever had a chance to propose to her, a boy, who had always lived in that neighborhood and who also liked the same girl, began telling her and other kids that I had another girl friend and that my family was poor and our house was dirty.

Boy… was I mad and puzzled why he would say those things! My older brothers suggested that I catch the boy alone and bloody his nose. The thoughts of following my old brothers’ recommendations were very self fulfilling. Fortunately, the next day or so I was with my grandpa. He was a very quiet man. I recall looking up at him several times and he would be looking back at me. When our eyes met, he would smile and nod his head as if to say, “yes, I see you, we’re together and you’re ok now.” I don’t know if that was his intended message, but that’s what I thought and felt when we were together. I remember saying, “Grandpa, I don’t like our new house.” He didn’t say a word but kept that same gentle look. I trusted him completely which meant I had to continue. Soon I broke the silence again with the story of the boy telling lies about me in our new neighborhood. He replied with a story about a snake.

I can’t retell the exact story as it was told that day as my mind was wondering why a snake would have a girlfriend and be called poor! Grandpa said that the only time a snake will strike is when someone arrives in its area and is viewed as a threat to the snake. He went on and explained about the nature of a snake.

Everyone who knows about snakes understands their nature. To expect the snake to do something outside of its nature is foolish. If you come into contact with a snake and he feels threatened – he will strike – that is its nature. I remember him saying, “Grandson, you are a threat to this young man and he is striking out at you. This is his nature. It is not your problem, it is his.” Now…at that time to an eight year old, these words seemed somewhat perplexing. However, as an adult who has experienced a few snakes along my path, I now clearly understand the teaching.

Part of the gentleness that came from my grandpa was his ability to accept things exactly for what they were – their nature. He challenged me to consider what type of person I would be – what would be my nature? Would I be the type of person who would have the nature of a snake, reacting wildly, striking out to poison someone who I viewed as a threat to me? He promised me that whatever type of person I chose to become, people would quickly come to know my nature.

Although I’m sure my grandpa was capable of being hostile, his lesson to me was how to deal with situations in a healthy, thoughtful manner. He assured me that others would also become aware of the boy’s actions and his nature. He challenged me to continue being the boy that he knew.

I write about this memory because I recently had another snake encounter. Different snake – same nature!  While I try to stay away from snakes now days, one seemed to slither into my path. I am grateful for the teaching my grandpa offered. Trying to deal with a venomous snake in a hostile way is foolish. It is best to accept the snake for what it is and move on. Now that I understand how snakes react, I do not allow them to divert me from my path and final goals.

My grandpa was right. People will eventually come to see the snake for what he is because there are a lot more threats out there waiting. Moving on and allowing the snake to be what it is, will best serve all involved. I truly believe, in time, everyone will soon see the snake’s true nature. I also believe my Grandpa is still looking at me and I do not want to disappoint him. When I look up at him he still says, “yes, I see you, we’re together and you’re ok now.” I’m proud to be walking the path that my Grandpa paved. And I try to live my life as if he is looking at me. I believe he is. Thank you Grandpa.

Peace, DAP

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ineffective or Inaccessible Treatments are the same as No Treatment – Or Worse

Presently in Haiti there are cases of Tuberculosis (TB) that do not respond to the most powerful medications.  The new more deadly TB that has appeared is called Multidrug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDRTB). While TB is usually easy to treat and has low mortality rates (about 5%), this new line of infection is very difficult to treat, takes longer to cure and has about an 80% mortality rate.  It has been stated that due to the patient’s “non-compliance” with the current TB treatment, which could last as long as a year, the TB bacteria have evolved into a more powerful infection.

The typical treatment for TB is to take medications for two months, followed by a different set of meds for four more months. If the patient follows this treatment plan for the specified six months, he is considered cured.  It is very important during the treatment period that the patient drink clean water and live and sleep in an open-air house. The patient is expected to see the doctor every few weeks. (Remember, those folks who follow these treatment recommendations usually are cured of TB.) 

In places like Haiti, where TB is very prevalent, the more serious MDRTB is increasing. Why, you might ask?  Well…many reasons.  Haitian patients who have TB are being treated just like any other patient regardless of cultural and social conditions.  For instance, Haitians were told to drink clean water.   Most, however, choose to continue drinking from the only water source in their village, which is contaminated.  The next nearest clean water source is several miles away.  Most Haitians have no transportation, other than walking.  It has also been recommended that patients sleep in an open-air room away from others.  Regrettably, most could not build an additional room, with a nice open-air cathedral ceiling to their one-room hut! Moreover they were instructed to come back to the hospital for a regular checkup.  That hospital is several miles away from their village.  Instead of using their limited funds to rent a donkey, most decided to use their money to feed their family.  Does this dilemma of having to choose for one’s family over one’s ‘health’ sound familiar?

The treatment of TB has a proven ‘plan’ for its cure – take the meds, drink clean water, and don’t pass on the dis-ease.  The ‘plan’ does not consider the social and cultural barriers that prevent Haitians from following every single rule.  When Haitians are not cured of the simple TB and acquire the more potent and deadly MDRTB, doctors often blame the patient and label him as being “non compliant” and/or “difficult to treat.”

There are many illnesses (physical, mental, spiritual and social) that if not treated correctly at the onset, can also make the patient feel sicker and pass the dis-ease on to others!  Alcoholism and drug addiction seem to fall into this category.  Addiction is often passed on through generations unobstructed, appearing to get worse with each passing year. 

While there are alcohol and drug treatment facilities around Buffalo, NY, the closest program specifically for Native Americans is several hours away from their homes.  As Haitians suffer from the more virulent form of TB because of limited resources within their communities, Native Americans seem to suffer needlessly for lack of accessible resources.

It would be ideal if Native Americans living around Buffalo did not have to travel several hours outside of their own communities to access the most appropriate and effective alcohol and drug treatments.  However, until there are treatment facilities specifically for Native Americans located within their own communities, alcoholism and drug addiction is likely to continue to evolve into a more difficult problem to solve, continuing to harm future generations.

If you know of alcohol and drug treatment programs around Buffalo specifically targeted to treat Native Americans and are willing to recommend them, please share with us. Peace, DAP

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


All programs that are designed to help folks, whether it is a hospital, mental health facility, or religious/spiritual service, have a basic ideology about what constitutes health & wellness. This is important because without this operating idea, how would they measure where someone is (e.g., not being healthy) and where they need to end up (e.g., being healthy)?

It is hard to get somewhere -- not knowing where you currently are! An old friend of mine worked at Mammoth Caves in Kentucky for a few years. Now, you may not believe this, but people travel from all over the world to visit and walk through the caves that make up Mammoth Caves. The main entrance, and where all tours begin is located off the main roads in the back woods of KY. Her full time job was to answer the phone and assist those visitors who where lost – and if they needed a fulltime person to do just this – would seem like a lot of folks getting lost. And speaking from experience, the wrong place to become lost is deep inside Kentucky. You might just find yourself driving down a road that dead ends somewhere in the 18th century!  

Anyway, when a lost person called the offices of Mammoth Caves, my friend was there to save the day. So the conversations would be something like, “Hello, I am trying to find the main entrance into Mammoth Caves and I am lost.” My friend would ask the same, first question every time, “Where are you now?”  Most times the reply would be, “I don’t know where I am!” This would leave my friend without the main information needed to bring the lost person into the park. Again, it is hard to get somewhere not knowing where you currently are.

Because my friend was born and lived around that area her entire life, if she did know the lost person’s location, she easily directed them into the main entrance. All she needed was only one piece of information from the person in need – where they are! Once that exact information was obtained, all it took was for those two to work together and follow a proven path. If the lost individual did not know where he was, my friend would have them start describing their surroundings. And again, because my friend knew the area, it did not take long until my friend knew right where he was, where he needed to be, and by working together all would soon be well.   

If we are to arrive at health, we have to know where we currently are. If someone is interested in arriving at health, regardless of where they are now, there are many paths to travel. The main focus in the beginning should be the awareness and agreement that good health exists and finding out exactly where you are now. Once equipped with this important information and with the help of experienced people, you can be on your way to health and wellness.  


Whether you call them American Indians, indigenous people, First Nations Peoples, and/or Native Americans, these original people of the United States are more likely to suffer from poor health-related issues than any other peoples living in the U.S. Lower life expectancy and the disproportionate disease burden exist due to such things as inadequate educational systems, unbalanced rates of poverty, and discrimination in the delivery of health services. There are broad quality of life issues rooted in economic adversity and poor social conditions. I will not burden you with all of the supporting data indicating the disproportionate rates of poor health associated with Native Americans. These data are easily found.

It is essential to note that the Native American Center for Wellness Research and the Three Sister’s Institute works from the belief that all ‘things’ are connected. The individual and his community are connected. These things cannot be seen nor approached as separate or individual conditions. They are connected! Just as the great Aspen trees in the American West appear as individualized life forms, in fact they grow and bloom together as the result of being connected by their roots.  Wellness is determined by an individual and his community’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.  Each of those factors grows and blooms together.  Disease or illness in any one of these areas impacts the wellness of the whole.

So, if someone suffers mentally, that one issue will directly impact on another issue, like spiritual health. The statement of health & wellness as per the Native American Center for Wellness Research and its associates works from the belief that health in all areas of life, (e.g., physical, emotional, mental and spiritual) must be equally considered. Any plan to address the physical, emotional, mental or spiritual conditions of Native Americans and the communities in which they live cannot approach these conditions as isolated systems. A determined joint approach addressing and including all conditions must be designed in order to appropriately implement a plan attempting to resolve the health & wellness issues in Native American communities. 

Unfortunately, our current system seems to address each of these issues one-at-a-time. For instance, a medical doctor does not usually focus on spiritual conditions. As the result of these single focused services, the Native American Center for Wellness Research was established and The Three Sisters Institute begun. The Three Sisters Institute operates from the belief that all things are connected and that health and wellness depends on all things being healthy.

If you have any comments, suggestions or information please share it. I look forward to hearing from you.

Peace, DAP

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tree of Peace Fund Raiser

                               Wolf-Fire Scholarship

Tree of Peace Fund Raiser

The Wolf-Fire Scholarship ( was started in August 2010 and has been raising funds to provide financial help to several UB students who are conducting scholarly activities in Native American communities. For numerous reasons, it is very important to support the works of students who are interested in working with Native American communities.  

This special Tree of Peace Fund Raiser will support one UB student whose work is specifically focused on peace, social justice or health & wellness issues in Native American Communities. It is our hope to award many students with a special Tree of Peace award going to one student.

The Tree of Peace is a symbol of the Great Law of Peace created by our local, New York State and Canadian Native American friends –The Six Nations. The tree is a great white pine whose branches spread out to shelter all nations who commit themselves to Peace. Beneath the tree the Five Nations buried their weapons of war; atop the tree is the Eagle-that sees far; and four long roots stretch out in the four sacred directions -- the "white roots of peace."

Your donation is fully tax deductable!

There is a very simple way to donate. You can log into the secure, UB sponsored Wolf-Fire Scholarship page and donate online.  In the “Please specify any additional instructions” space, please put Tree of Peace and the name you wish to be listed on the Tree.

If you wish to donate by check there is a printable form on the on-line donation page, link above.

We are hoping to raise $500 in order to support the work of one UB student who plans to specifically work toward peace, social justice or health & wellness issues in Native American communities. The Tree of Peace student will be honored along with other Wolf-Fire Scholarship awardees at the annual dinner January 25, 2011.

I greatly appreciate your consideration. You can learn more about the Wolf-Fire Scholarship here:

Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you very much, DAP

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Message From the Director

I am happy to report that the vision and mission of the Native American Center for Wellness Research (NACWR) has continued to develop and evolve since its beginning in 2007. With the help and direction from NACWR’s board of advisors, the center now has three distinct focus areas. The best way to explain these is to tell the story behind NACWR’s logo.  Although all the teachings connected with the symbols and symbolisms in the logo would best be told over a longer period of time by our wise community of elders, I hope to explain enough of the story to provide you with an understanding of our vision and mission.

Our logo represents the Three Sisters. We have been taught that all things are related and connected to each other. Our individual health and well-being is connected with the health of our environment. Whether we live in an extremely toxic environment or one that lacks nutritious elements, either impacts our overall health. Health requires a healthy environmental companion. This fundamental idea of connectiveness has been with us since there was an us!

According to the teachings of the Six Nations (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora), also known as the Haudenosaunee or the "People of the Longhouse,” Corn, Beans, and Squash are inseparable Sisters who only grow and thrive together. Not only do the Sisters sustain each other, but they work together with the soil to provide us with healthy nutrients for generations.

All three Sisters are planted together in the same mound of soil. The Corn is the first out of the mound. It provides a natural pole for the Bean vines to climb. Beans have nitrogen on their roots which improve the mound’s fertility. The Bean’s vines also provide stability to Corn, making it less susceptible to blowing over during heavy winds. The Squash’s vines become a living mulch with leaves that shade and discourage emerging weeds to overtake the mound. Squash’s large leaves prevent moisture evaporation thus improving the Sister’s chances of survival during dry times. The Squash are also spiny and prevent many predators from getting to the other Sisters.  

Once the season has cycled, the Sisters provide greats amounts of organic residue which is incorporated back into the mound improving soil structure for next season. Nutritionally, the Three Sisters significantly complement each other. Corn offers carbohydrates.  Beans are gorgeous in protein, harmonizing the lack of amino acids found in corn. As a final enhancement Squash produces both vitamins from the fruit and oil from Her seeds.

The Native American Center for Wellness Research hopes to learn from and follow the Three Sisters’ design for healthy collaboration and growth. The center has an updated vision and mission statement and three related focus areas.

Our Vision Statement reflects our desire to be a responsive, sustainable community wellness center. Through cooperative efforts, a broad focus on wellness promotion, and shared leadership and accountability, the center is positioned to respond to current and future wellness challenges and protect and promote the well-being of all Native American communities, particularly the most disadvantaged.

Our Mission states that the Native American Center for Wellness Research is already an active participant in Native American communities. Through the center we are following the idea of The Three Sisters and are building programs to:

  • Promote and enhance the educational experiences of Native American students so they can have a positive impact in their communities;

·  Through scientific evaluation and research, evaluate and promote the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellness of Native Americans;

·  Actively participate in community peace and social justice ceremonies.

Our website will be updated soon to reflect the continuous growth of our initiatives. Please feel free to visit to learn more about new activities such as the Wolf-Fire Scholarship.

Thank you very much. DAP