Last Thursday I had the pleasure of being a part of the 2nd Annual Indigenous Peace Gathering. The keynote speaker for the evening was Dr. Mario Garza, Founder of the Indigenous Cultures Institute. During his speech, he referred to an incident involving a Texas Army base, which led me to reflect upon the fact that the availability of faith-based mental health counseling shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Dr. Garza described how a couple of years back he was approached by a counselor who worked for an Army base located here in Texas. The counselor requested that Dr. Garza connect him with someone capable of performing Native American ceremonies because he felt it could help soldiers heal.
There is quite a bit of empirical evidence supporting the benefits of Native American ceremonies in counseling soldiers. According to Professor Lawrence Gross of Montana State University, ceremonies for "sending soldiers to war, reintegrating them back into society, honoring their contributions to our freedom, and making use of their experiences by placing them in leadership positions within their groups," make a significant difference. However, despite the evidence and the opportunity, and regardless of the Native American Religious Freedom Act passed in the 70's, the base refused to allow that type of counseling.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness that is now being recognized more, and is especially prevalent among our veterans. Through working with the Inspiration Center, I've learned just how important it is to couple faith with certified counseling to help heal people who suffer from PTSD. This disorder can have an exponentially detrimental effect on our Native American veterans, especially if they are not allowed to go through the proper ceremonial measures to recover.
Take into account the fact that life, especially human life, is looked at in high regard, perhaps even sacred within Indigenous cultures. Imagine a young person, potentially a teenager, who has been indoctrinated in that belief being suddenly exposed to a soldier’s combat realities, all while living in constant survival mode for years at a time. Their entire worldview would be shaken, then they would simply be released back into society. Now consider the effect that could occur if, while other soldiers are free to turn to faith-based counseling to cope, Native American soldiers are denied their religious freedoms.
Now let me say that this particular blog is not a "rally" blog, it's more-so a call of attention to opportunity. Dr. Garza’s scenario occurred two years ago. I hope that between then and now things have changed on that base. However, here is my point in all of this: let us not marginalize the important aspect of faith in counseling that is freely available to most, while others have to fight for it.