Envisioning a Healthy Future: A Re-Becoming of Native American Men

Article excerpt

Native American men have historically been important to their communities, each having a specific function in the perpetuation of cultural norms and practices. Oral tradition and communal experiential activity were pathways of maintaining a connection with others and in regenerating culture. In contrast, the modern dominant culture values and emphasizes individuation as an indicator of psychosocial growth. This influence seems to have hindered Indigenous people/men in maintaining a sense of connection with the community. Survival for Indigenous men during the establishment of encroaching nations has often occurred through relinquishment of a part of `self' psychically. Aboriginal men report experiencing hopelessness living in a self-imposed isolation, without a sense of tradition or direction. Healing may focus on use of normative and narrative efforts that rebuild the `self' as a part of others and the community, which fosters a sense of interconnectedness. Ceremony is an adjunct to developing linkages between heritage, roles, and a community connection.

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It can be said that whatever befalls the least empowered people of a nation, will eventually come to pass for the entire nation. Native American men have historically been stewards of a culture and tradition sustaining a larger community connection (Johnston, 1976; Densmore, 1979; Gill, 1985; Bear Heart & Larkin, 1996). During five centuries of mainstream oppression, the Native male faced disenfranchisement from society, and self; being cut off from the traditional community focus of life. While today's mainstream society enjoys modernity with all of its gadgetry, not all members have been so blessed as to be participants. The pressure imposed by majority institutions on the Native man to individuate has largely resulted in a lonely retreat into depressive hopelessness.

For Native people, this change has been twofold. Primarily, the cost has been unfavorable to the Indigenous psyche, in that being a minority in a larger European-valued population, there a sense of either being ignored or romanticized. Second, there is a growing feeling of disillusionment with life in modern society; neither being fully allowed to participate in it, nor fully wanting to do so. Many Native men lack a positive self-esteem, which was historically derived from a role abundant with personal life-meaning, and functioning as part of a nurturing community.

Many indigenous people have learned to survive for decades by denying their `Indian-ness' and even rejecting that part of self in an attempt to gain a limited foothold in the modern world (Moore & Gillette, 1992; Voss, Douville, Little Soldier & Twiss, 1999). This denial of the self greatly diminishes the reward and opportunity once offered to sustain a time-honored way of life and personal meaning-making. Without this rudimentary sense of usefulness and purpose, many Native men have turned to harmful chemical and behavioral addictions of as a means of either escaping hopelessness or maintaining the illusion of control. The progression of an addiction eventually robs the individual of a sense of self, perpetuates psychic despair, and promotes further addictive behavior (Schaler, 2000). As one student stated, "at least [with alcohol] we have something to look forward to in life" (D. L. Johnson, personal communication, August 21, 1999).

Recently, men began to realize they were neglecting the everyday nurturing responsibilities traditionally considered as theirs. For Indigenous men to achieve their own center and balance, it is important that they embrace a healthy respect for the women, children, and elders of their nations (Small, 2001). A respect for the self is grounded in a healthy respect for others, emphasizing the importance of being connected with a community.

It is the goal of this paper to heighten awareness of the diminishing importance of men's contextual role and function in modern Native America, how this has contributed to dysfunctional behaviors and addictions, and how some helpers and organizations are successfully reversing this trend. …