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Expertise offered on alcohol and drug treatment

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MISSION, S.D. - Fresh with the experience of dealing with more than 1,300 youths who have suffered alcohol and other drug addictions, the team of Hoskie Benally and Dr. Candice Sabin is taking its treatment conclusions to other tribes.

For 13 years Benally, a Navajo medicine man, and Dr. Sabin, coordinated the Our Youth, Our Future Adolescent Treatment Program (OYOF) in Farmington, N.M. for teenagers dealing with substance abuse. While this facility implemented western-style healing, including using a 12-step method, OYOF also invoked traditional, holistic methods which were proven to generate a higher success rate.

"If you bring the culture into the rehabilitation process, it brings up their self-esteem towards the process of recovery and sobriety," said Benally.

Although the New Mexico site closed in 2002, during the last five years when Benally and Sabin added a bi-cultural component into OYOF, the improvements within their teenage clients was both noticeable and documented. Prior to 1998 before sweat lodges, tipi building and talking circles were used as therapeutic tools for the mind, body and soul, (besides strengthening their Native identity) just 54 percent of the adolescents completed the two-month course. Following these significant additions to the rehabilitation curriculum, the graduation rate in 1998 was 83 percent and in subsequent years never fell below 80 percent.

Even more significant was the participation of families once bi-culturalism was introduced. In 1997 only one-third of the parents of these children visited the facility and engaged in proactive support. Once traditional healing was practiced, that number doubled and reached 92 percent by 2001.

Within these family sessions, no fault was ever assessed. Instead, there became a venue towards understanding the root causes of the kids' behavior.

"There's chronic stress and that will develop pain and abuse," said Sabin about a working motto at OYOF of "No guilt, shame or blame. For the first time they had a forum for talking circles and how they got through their hardships and adversities."

Recently Benally and Sabin, who have partnered under the name Eagle Vision Consulting, were sponsored to prepare a seminar for the Rosebud Sioux tribe courtesy of the Sicangu Policy Institute under the project of Reclaiming Futures, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that supports at-risk youth. Although disappointed by the closure of OYOF, this duo is assisting others with finding what could work in other communities.

Unquestionably the methods and the tools the Navajo used to cleanse their youth will be different than what the Sioux may attempt with such factors as geography and climate playing a role. However, what has been discovered is that most American Indian tribes share about 10 concepts of wellness, many revolving around the need for harmony between the physical, mental and spiritual being. It's within this philosophy that Benally and Sabin hope elders and social workers they meet will develop a system appropriate for their reservations' needs.

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"To take that experience (of OYOF) and share with other Indian tribes because this model can be specific to that culture," said Sabin.

During the full-day session, the seminar also includes a 30-minute video documentary that showcases how OYOF worked. As part of the clinic's study of its effectiveness, graduates from the program were interviewed and other appearances were made by those whose personal addictions and demons caused them to drop out and who are facing greater challenges in life as adults.

OYOF also conducted follow-ups of out-patients at three-month intervals for a one-year period upon their departure. By determining the efficacy (the power to produce results), this center became a model for studying how traditional and western-based healing principles can be incorporated simultaneously.

"We're going to help Indian tribes access Medicare dollars that they didn't know they could get because they didn't have an evidence-based treatment model," Benally pointed out as one of the legacies left behind by OYOF.

In addition to weaning the kids off the alcohol and drugs, OYOF's mandate included schooling their clients. Accredited through New Mexico's Board of Education, students frequently improved their marks by a full grade through a combination of sobriety and stability plus individual and cultural pride.

Donna Benally, who is Hoskie's wife and assists with Eagle Vision, believes Native students have different needs when being taught. Unlike the linear way of thinking that's purported in most schools, the center's teaching methods were more in line with the traditional concept of seeing a larger picture when being educated.

"We're being taught that you sit in a row, listen to the teacher who gives the information and are being taught to memorize," Donna said about how it's more appropriate for Indian youth to be taught how to think. "You need to make it meaningful to the students whether they're elementary, middle school or college (age)."

This was the second time Eagle Vision had visited the Rosebud Sioux over the past year and in 2004 the Benallys and Dr. Sabin will provide further assistance in helping meeting the tribe's goals of assisting troubled youth.

For more information about Eagle Vision Consulting, Hoskie Benally can be reached at (505) 368-4873 and while Candice Sabin can be contacted at (727) 772-7132.