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Catt-Iron Shell: Sex and the rez

The reservation party scene has become more complex over the generations. In our more traditional times, a party in Indian country was based on a celebration of spirituality and community. A time to exploit the beauty of the life force around us, a time to give thanks. In this time of innocence, we did not need stimulants to produce good feelings and good times.

As indigenous populations became and become more of an endangered species, the party circuit rages on but on a very different end of the spectrum. Natives still come together to visit, share war stories and snag. From ancestral times to contemporary times, the party scene in Indian country has gone from gatherings of celebration to predominately a gathering to ease the pains of intergenerational trauma and daily hardship.

Since its introduction to indigenous populations, alcohol has become the Native gateway drug to harder substances. In the '60s, although thought to be isolated, we experienced the psychedelic drug craze via migrating Native urbanites and our returning servicemen and woman. We were introduced to the world of synthetic drugs, heroin, cocaine, and of course cannabis, which continues to be very popular.

It is common knowledge in Indian country how the party life has affected our nations. It has numbed the assimilation process, which all Natives are born into. It has maimed and killed, it has created a slow and systematic death drawing even those who don't abuse alcohol or drugs into its agony.

Alcohol abuse is visibly and statistically rampant in Indian country. Sadly, at times we seem to have become desensitized or complacent in addressing the overwhelming challenges we face in helping our people. Because of this, we have not really noticed that crystal meth is becoming a greater problem than all our intergenerational addictions combined.

Our breakdown of family structure, traditional mentality and spirituality has been overwhelmingly and negatively influenced by alcoholism and substance abuse. This is nothing compared to what meth has to offer. Meth is a large contributing factor to the AIDS epidemic in the United States. Nicely said, when someone takes meth it usually results in a very sharp increase in sexual appetite. With lowered inhibitions it is not uncommon that we are finding users utilizing multiple sex partners while on meth and not considering any precautions towards sexual safety. One young girl I spoke with said, "I have unsafe sex while on crystal, I think I was lonely, bored and meth gets me close to guys I like and makes me closer to them." The result of these behaviors is an increase in unintended teen pregnancy, domestic violence, criminal activity, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and the continued erosion of the positives in our tribal communities. We are finding house parties where the menu consists of meth only, and sex for as long as possible and with as many people as possible. When I asked why they choose that drug over alcohol, the answer was that meth is more accessible than alcohol and more of an intense high than marijuana.

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The reservation party circuit is a complex place. For every sad story of substance abuse and self-destruction there are many more stories of lasting friendship and richly satisfying experiences. Our people are gathering for more than just the high. It is a jaded form of a healing process. Life in Indian country is hard and we've spent so much energy just trying to stay Native and stay alive that many of our people don't have the coping skills needed to deal with the complex issues we are born into. No one is going to stop their party life until they are ready to do so.

It is not time to condemn those who won't or can't stop but it is our collective responsibility to provide a means for those who do want to walk a different path in life. For those who continue to party, it's time for them to take ownership of the health issues associated with the party scene. Consider moderation, use bleach kits, use condoms, wear seatbelts, respect yourself and those around you. Those are some things we should all be doing but it's very important for those who choose high risk behaviors to take notice. Long-term methamphetamine abuse commonly results in paranoia, violent behavior, anxiety, confusion, unhealthy weight loss and insomnia, and can even result in painful death.

One troubling issue to note consists of meth smokers graduating to injection use. It is becoming alarmingly common to see our Native youth injecting drugs before they're old enough to experience their first prom. Some meth injectors are stealing syringes from diabetic family members and may not be using proper safety precautions to avoid Hepatitis C or HIV. Some who get their needles in this manner are secretly returning the needles thus placing our diabetics in grave danger.

With the majority of new HIV infections happening in women and young people from 15 - 24 years old, we must learn what personal actions we may be doing that would put us at risk for HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and addiction itself. We all need a break from the everyday challenges now and then but I don't think any of us start out wanting to destroy ourselves or contribute to the genocide of our Native populations.

We as Native people have an obligation to rekindle our tradition of helping one another. I'm not saying we should be a snitch or a preacher but be compassionate and use the power of peer pressure, wisdom and caring to support one another in positive ways. This is the only way we are going to succeed in meeting the many health challenges that our great Native nations face everyday. There is help in our local health systems to help those who want to address their substance abuse issues. There is support for those who want to help someone else. Give yourself permission to make the effort. The life force of Indian country may well depend on it.

Andrew Catt-Iron Shell is a Community Health Representative for the Sicangu Lakota Nation in South Dakota. He can be reached at