WARMS SPRINGS, OR. – All nine Tribes of Oregon were present at the first ever Tribal Summit on Opioids and other Drugs. The Confederated Tribes of Warms Springs hosted this event at the beautiful Kah-Nah-Ta Resort in Warm Springs. This summit was focused solely on what is happening in Indian Country. Lines for Life was fortunate to be involved in this one of a kind event, and each Tribe left the Summit with realistic plans to combat alcohol and drug misuse in their communities.
“Culture is Prevention, is Treatment, is Wellness and it is Life.” This was the theme of the conference, because the Indian communities are rooted in cultural practices. It has helped them overcome immense trauma historically, and it continues to help them address issues that they currently face. The Summit featured a variety of speakers that challenged attendees to be open minded to the latest approaches to pain management such as Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). The topic of MAT is controversial for some Tribal communities that are hesitant to the idea of using medicine as a means of treatment and are rooted in cultural approaches to pain treatment.
Despite the controversial topic, attendees responded well to speakers like Eric Martin, who shared his knowledge and experience from working in Inpatient Psychiatric Hospitalization for 32 years. He presented the heavy topic of addiction treatment in lighthearted and humorous way. Martin began by explaining what happens to the brain when using substances. He explained it in a way that an audience with a non-medical background could understand. He showed compelling footage of patients in recovery experiencing withdrawal symptoms and explained some of the common misdiagnosis that physicians give to people who are in recovery. He helped attendees understand the benefits and success of MAT treatment with the help statistics, personal stories, visuals, and dark humor.
There were breakout sessions throughout the conference that focused on Native American culture and how it plays a key role in prevention for Tribal communities. Cultural arts are a means of intergenerational prevention and healing. “Healing by Honoring Ancestral Wisdom, a decolonization of Mainstream Substance Use Prevention as well as Sharing Cultural & Community Activities for Prevention and Harm Reduction” and “Horses for Healing” demonstrated some of these Tribal Best Practices, including increased physical activity through ceremony, native games, Powwow dance, and equine therapy.
“Veterans and Healing” was one breakout session that was a major takeaway. Johnathan W. Courtney, a Veteran and a member of the Tribal community of Warm Springs, talked about the struggles that Native American Veterans face when reintegrating into society. VA services are usually in more urban areas and are far from Tribal Reservations. Some Tribes have a Tribal Veterans Representative (TVR), but others do not have access to this resource. One of the most compelling facts that we learned was that 20-25% of Native American Vietnam War Veterans experience PTSD. This percentage is higher than Caucasian Vietnam Veterans. When asked causes for PTSD among these Veterans, many of the responses were “psychological conflict result from identification with the enemy.” Courtney said that connectivity to the Tribes and education across the board are some things that the VA can do to better support rural and Native American Veterans.
One of the best aspects of the Tribal Summit was the sense of community. After a long day of speakers and breakout sessions, there was entertainment. The children dressed in their traditional clothing and performed some of the Tribal dances. They also had a comedian, Jeff Yellow Owl, who uses Native Humor to tell stories. They began the conference by posting the color guard to honor warriors from past and present that served our country, and throughout the conference they offered acupuncture therapy to attendees.
The Tribal Summit successfully brought life to the cultural approaches to prevention. Seeing all nine Tribes of Oregon present speaks to their commitment to addressing the substance use issue. We were glad to be involved in this event and we hope to see this focus on what is happening in Tribal communities continue in all our conversations around prevention.