Historical trauma has taken its toll on Native people, and Clayton Small, Northern Cheyenne, founder of Native Prevention, Research, Intervention, Development, and Education, or Native P.R.I.D.E., spent years developing ways to help Native men overcome the effects.
“Colonization has diminished the roles of being a father, a man, a warrior. Over generations, men have resorted to unhealthy addictions to food, sex, alcohol, gambling, as a way to cope,” Small said. “We need to admit that historical trauma is a part of our history, but that doesn’t have to stop us from growing today and becoming a good, responsible man.”
In a webinar entitled “Fatherhood and Wellness” Small offered many solutions for men to heal from past traumas. Here are nine of them:
Regardless of the way you practice it, Small said, “Spirituality is our greatest source of strength and an important part of our healing journey. Ceremonies renew us, our families, the universe, and the earth. When we participate in the sacred we realize that there is a power greater than us, and that it’s okay to ask for help.”
Small said there are four feelings: mad, sad, glad, and afraid. “Men are champions at expressing anger but other feelings are difficult for us. We talk about those things in ceremony, so we just need to transfer that sense of safety and belonging outside of ceremony into everyday life.”
Embrace Your Culture
Small said going to pow wows and other gatherings is important but, “We have to hang out with healthy men. If we hang out with knuckleheads we are going to become a knucklehead. So the lesson here is that it’s okay to be a recovering knucklehead.”
Learn to Forgive
Small said that sometimes children are hurt, betrayed, abandoned, disciplined harshly, abused, and neglected. Other times, young “knuckleheads” must learn to forgive themselves. Small recommends, “You can open the door to forgiveness by saying, ‘I hope and pray that at some point you can forgive me and we can have a good relationship.’ Sometimes the son has to initiate reconciliation with his parents, especially when his father is still angry and bitter or into unhealthy addictions.” In his own healing journey, the son can encourage the father to seek a wellness path.
Courtesy Clayton Small
Clayton Small said that when we live within the circle, we are in balance. The boxes outside the circle represent challenges to becoming a responsible husband, father, and grandfather.
Knowing your parent’s history helps to forgive them, Small said. “Find out about their childhood; did they go to boarding schools? Was there alcohol and violence in the family?” Often, parents don't want to talk about these issues, however Small said it is important. “It’s not about making them feel bad, it’s about healing and reaching a level where we can let some of those strong feelings go. Forgiving our parents is one of the challenges in our healing journey. If it was easy we would have done it yesterday,” Small said. “With a warm handshake, we need to say we are here for each other, let’s do this together. We feel safe talking about these things with women, but we also need to have that same conversation with other men. Our men need to learn to talk to each other about more than sports, weather and dirty jokes.”
Shame and Embarrassment
These things happen when men can’t get a job or provide food or shelter for their families or “when they were young and foolish, you hurt or betrayed someone else,” Small said. Instead of a lifetime of regret, Small encouraged men to say, “I did the best I could and that’s good enough. Today, I am going to choose to let those feelings go. That’s called healing. Older and wiser men can become responsible fathers and husbands.” He also said, “Let it go and give it to the creator, to the spirits. I went through therapy and ceremonies. We have to be honest and open and listen to feedback from other people.”
“It takes a lot of courage to be humble, to express tears. We have so many losses that go unresolved in Indian country. There are funerals every week. When we don't know how to deal with that grief, we may turn to drugs and alcohol and violence. It’s okay to get emotional. It’s okay for men to cry,” Small said. “Our men have not been conditioned to express their feelings in a healthy way. We know how to express anger and violence, but we have a difficult time saying, ‘I am afraid, I am hurt.’ Our men need to take time to do the grief work, to ask for help.”
Courtesy Clayton Small
In this drawing a warrior rides among the bloodied victims of war and chooses to count coup rather than resort to violence against the man in his path.
Small said that experiences in our youth conditions our behavior for the rest of our life, “but that doesn't mean we can’t change and grow. If we have a crisis or stressful situation, we might resort to drinking again. The key is to get back up. Use our spirituality and resources of strength, ask for help, but it’s not up to someone else to save me. I have to do my part.”
Honor Our Women
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Our women need to stand side by side with us, equal in the relationship as wife, mother, partner, and with an assertiveness in the relationship that only happens when we have broken those unhealthy cycles, Small said.
“Fatherhood and Wellness,” can be heard in its entirety on the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center website. The webinar offers many additional ways to heal relationships and avoid destructive behaviors and situations. Native P.R.I.D.E offers workshops throughout the country.
The National Indigenous Women's Network provides a wide variety of wellness webinars.
“We are all a work in progress and healing takes place over time. What really helps men is to spend time with other men who are on a wellness path. That really helps the light bulb click on,” Small said. “I don't have to spend time feeling hurt or angry or betrayed. Other men are going through the same things I am and we can work on things together. I don't have to stay stuck.”