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