Thursday, February 26, 2009

White Bison

The track I participated in most regularly was the Indigenous track, led by my friend Tom Brown of the Lenape (Delaware) Nation. Tom went back to college at age 49, got his BSW and is now working on his MSW. He hopes to open a rehab facility for American Indians and Indian veterans(or maybe all vets). Tom's basic material is called 'White Bison'. This is a 12 step program adapted and developed by Don Coyhis, Mohican Nation. The mission of White Bison, a non-profit organization, is "to assist in bringing 100 Native American communities into healing by 2010." Tom uses a teaching DVD series Don Coyhis made in a couple of correctional institutions in the '90's. Don is a natural teacher and a humorous guy,and the video series is covered by an "Indian Copyright" as he calls it; the series should be shared, given, used to spread healing. I got some good stuff out of his detailed and lucid presentations. I learned about mind-mapping, which we did on the negative effects of drinking. You could also do one on the positive aspects of sobriety(or pretty much anything else-Google 'mind mapping' for examples). I was helped to see that my mind and body work together to keep me conformed to the image or mind picture I have of myself. I realized that even during my long periods of non-drinking(or smoking weed or taking speed or acid etc), I was actually only abstinent, not truly sober. I always maintained a picture of myself as drinker, stoner, partier and I knew that someday I would be getting high again. Now I am working to change that picture and embrace sobriety.
In addition to the video series we were given a book, "The Red Road to Wellbriety" and workbook materials. "Wellbriety means to be sober and well." The Wellbriety movement places an emphasis on community as well as individual and family healing. This is a critical need especially on the rez, but it would have been great in the Polish American neighborhood in which I grew up. I suspect the percentage of alcoholism in the Back of The Yards in Chicago rivalled most resevations, but we had jobs and hope to keep us more functional.
We had movies,(Skins, Smoke Signals, Lakota Woman) on Wednesdays and usually on Fridays we had 'talking circle'. Tom would smudge us with cedar, sage and sweetgrass, waving the smoke over us with an eagle feather. We would receive the blessing by reaching for the smoke and pulling it over our heads and bodies. This ceremony is to free us from negativity and purify our hearts and minds. We then passed the eagle feather, and the one who held it spoke without interruption or comment from the rest of the group. We spoke of whatever was on our minds and for as long as we chose. After each had a chance to speak, we then spoke freely as a group. These were deeply meaningful times for me and the others who participated.
AFR is planning to build a seperate building for the indigenous track so they can practice drumming and singing(Tom has a drum ordered from a Pueblo nation) and inipe or sweat lodge ceremonies without disturbing the other people in the main building. This is a wonderful program open to people of all ethnicities. If you would like to learn more about White Bison check out

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