Access to recovery promotes Native-style community treatment

SHERIDAN, Wyo. – Through the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, a four-year grant program called Access to Recovery was awarded $10.1 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that provides for services for drug and alcohol treatment.

The grant – in addition to providing Native Americans living in Montana and Wyoming with inpatient treatment – addresses needs that aren’t covered in typical chemical dependency funding like firewood for sweat lodges, sober housing, transportation, child care, job training and faith-based spiritual support.

Karla Two Two, ATR director, explained that faith-based and traditional spiritual support is important since it provides clients with personal strength and like-minded community structure to fall back on.

MT-WY TLC Research Director Craig Love concurred. “The spiritual component of a person in Indian country is far more prevalent and up front and in the face. Even if they’re Christian, that’s where they come from. It creates a need for a special kind of intervention.”

The center and program is for people who seek out such help. Love said there’s no need to provide a treatment facility for someone who doesn’t want it.

“You make it available, you make it attractive, then bring them in if they want it. You don’t sell it, you offer it and you find people who are really interested. The bottom line is that they have to want to change, and we can help them find that path.”

MT-WY TLC respects the unique differences of each tribe.

“We don’t try to combine them, we don’t try and do a pan-Indian thing, we let each tribe do their own thing,” Love said. “So, if someone wants a medicine man, it’s a medicine man from their reservation.”

ATR is completely voluntary for a tribe’s participation. Although other programs offered by MT-WY TLC have been mostly embraced by tribes, not all of them have been as well-received.

“All the tribes seemed excited about this ATR,” Love said. “What it has done for treatment is fill in the blanks, because people might not have a car, or gas, or child care to go to treatment. Now they do.”

In order to disperse the money, each tribe will have to go through a voucher system that makes sure specific needs are met. Each tribe will refer individuals that need assistance as opposed to each tribe receiving “x” amount of dollars.

Love said the ATR makes it possible for people to participate in treatment that makes sense to them.

“This isn’t slipping into a white world where they have to do the 12-steps-lockstep or do cognitive behavioral therapy without dealing with what are the most important issues.

“People in Indian country need to get connected with the spirit and medicine that is already there in the tribe and tribal community. It’s far more effective because a person who has an addiction problem has a broken spirit. If you find a way to deal with their spirit, you can deal with their addiction.”

Myron Littlebird is the director of the Inter-Tribal Wellness Center along the Tongue River in Sheridan, Wyo. The center was built with the help of a previous substance abuse grant obtained by the MT-WY TLC called the Rocky Mountain Tribal Wellness Initiative.

He likes the way ATR is bringing Native values to the forefront in the fight against addiction while helping people with things like child care and paying for inpatient treatment at the Inter-Tribal Wellness Center, and then helping them afterwards with things like finding a job as opposed to abandoning them which could lead to relapse.

“Native values are really strong. They’re there, but they’re dormant,” Littlebird said.

The Red Road to Wellbriety is the treatment model that the Inter-Tribal Wellness Center and the ATR uses.

“It’s good to see people start to question their spiritual values,” Littlebird said. “You don’t see any 12-step posters on the wall; we rely on the sweat lodge and all the open outdoor area to look at. We’ve wanted to do this for a long time so we can help get people back to who we are as Native people.”

Two Two acknowledged that no program is perfect, but the ATF has proven to be far more successful for Natives than other recovery programs. A 60 percent decrease in number of days using illegal drugs, a 40 percent decrease in days alcohol was used, and a 36 percent decrease of mean days of serious depression.

“We’re not going to tell you that because of the ATR we’ve cured people,” Love said. “But what we can say is we’ve contributed to the reduction of crime and reduction of addiction. In that sense, it’s been successful.”