Andy Big Snake: Barriers to real sobriety in Indian Country

My definition of sobriety is when a person is emotionally stable, socially productive and lives a sober life supported by faith and the belief in strong principals. This is the only way; true sobriety works and it is not taking place in Indian Country due to several barriers.

One such barrier is the unqualified or untrained alcohol and drug (A/D) counselor, regardless of his or her degrees and state certification certificates hanging proudly on the walls of ego at most triba offices and clinics. This is malpractice pure and simple.

Why is this malpractice; the unqualified or untrained A/D counselors does not know how to identify and treat the following character defects, resentment, anger, lying, evasiveness, dishonesty, fear, cowardice, impatience, self-pity, hate, self-justification, false or excessive pride, phoniness, denial, self-importance, egotism, jealousy, self-condemnation, guilt, envy, laziness, procrastination, insincerity, negative immoral thinking, perfectionism, intolerance, criticizing, loose talk, gossip, greed, and the lack of faith and belief in religious or spiritual principals. These untreated character defects are the main causative factors behind chronic relapse, suicide, and death.

Due to the lack of qualifications and training, A/D counselors are unable to identify or treat character defects successfully. The behavioral health department at most tribal clinics also do not know how to treat character defects effectively. Psychologists on contract with tribal clinics do not know how to treat character defects effectively.

The identification of untreated character defects takes place during the intake or assessment interview. This is another barrier. The A/D counselor lacks professional interviewing skills. The interview should include client medical, social, psychological, psychiatric, spiritual, and recommendations for treatment. The interview must be conducted in the same manner law enforcement conducts a homicide investigation. These types of interviews are not taking place in Indian country. If they were, why are Indian people not achieving sobriety.

Another barrier is the shameful lack of professional writing skills by the entire staff of tribal A/D programs. This problem explains why A/D counselors avoid conducting or writing the assessment interview. The lack of writing skills also affects correspondence to all tribal and state courts.

Another barrier and one that strikes a chord in tribal members is tribal politics. Politics in any form is a sin and sinful people do sinful things. The newly elected officials once sworn into office immediately become an authority on everything in life including sobriety. The barrier preventing Indian people from achieving sobriety is the appointment of untrained and unqualified voters to key positions in tribal A/D programs. Politics should remain separated from A/D programs and the tribal clinic.

Another barrier preventing Indian people from ever achieving sobriety in Indian Country is the lack of community mental health associates or the CMA. The CMA does not treat mental health problems. Their duties are to act as the liaison between the patient and the mental health provider. Their duties might include transporting client to the services.

The CMA as an advocate for the Indian people will have the resources to treat any type of mental health or emotional discomfort plaguing Indian People in their community. The benefit of the CMA will assist the tribal A/D program and the behavioral department in locating appropriate services for patients.

Another barrier preventing Indian people from achieving sobriety in Indian Country is the lack of counseling services addressing intimacy and loneliness. Intimacy and loneliness are not classified as character defects but if not treated can lead to alcohol and drug abuse. This explains why Indian people marry anyone outside their race. Intimacy and love should be part of the client’s treatment plan.

Another barrier preventing Indian people from recovering from the pitfalls of chronic alcoholism and drug abuse is the lack of community alcohol and drug education. The untrained and unqualified staff lacks the creativity, imagination, and drama to lure Indian people to a community gathering. Tribal members are tired and worn out from listening to local A/D counselors preach hell, fire, and damnation. They heard it before.

This commentary based on my recent trek across Indian country stopped at several urban and tribal A/D programs. The A/D programs in Indian country are in shambles because of the programs inability to produce sobriety. The problems lie mostly in the unqualified or untrained counselors. Unless a change comes, our Indian people will continue to relapse, commit suicide, and go to the spirit world before their time.

Andy Big Snake a member of the Ponca/Sac and Fox Nations is a retired licensed alcohol and drug counselor. During his forty-year tenure as an A/D counselor, he was instrumental in helping over 500 or more clients recover from addiction and maintain sobriety. He is a seventy year-old, bachelor living with his younger bachelor brother and spends most of his free time working on a romance novel. He can be contacted snake.andrew@ymail.com

Join the Conversation